If Sen. Mark Kirk had died of his stroke -- or if he turns out to be so incapacitated he cannot continue in office -- Gov. Pat Quinn would be required to appoint a replacement, putting him in the same position as Rod Blagojevich when Sen. Barack Obama resigned to become president.
Quinn would almost certainly appoint a Democrat to the seat. But at this point, whoever took over would serve only until November, when a special election would be held to fill the remaining four years in Kirk’s term.
The last Illinois senator to die in office was Everett Dirksen. Dirksen died in September 1969, just eight months into his fourth term. Republican Gov. Richard Ogilvie appointed a state legislator, Ralph Tyler Smith, to fill Dirksen’s seat. The next year, Smith lost the special election to State Treasurer Adlai Stevenson III.
Not every state allows the governor as much leeway in choosing a replacement. In Wyoming, for example, the governor has to choose from a list of three names submitted by the former senator’s party. Nor does every state allow senators to serve until the next general election. Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts died in August 2009. Sen. Scott Brown was elected to fill his seat the following February. (In the meantime, the governor appointed a caretaker senator to represent Massachusetts in Washington.)
Given that our last Senate appointment led to one of the biggest political scandals in Illinois’ scandalous political history, Senator Kirk’s health scare may be a good occasion to revise our laws regarding Senate vacancies.
Last November, state Sen. Ira Silverstein, D-Chicago, introduced a bill that would require the state senate to give its advice and consent to any U.S. Senate appointments. The bill hasn’t gone anywhere. Maybe it will now.
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