Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich picked former state Attorney General Roland Burris to fill President-elect Barack Obama’s vacated Senate seat. Blagojevich announced the appointment at a news conference today.
The governor said Burris’ “unquestioned integrity,” and “long and distinguished career,” qualify the former attorney general for the position. Despite being mired in legal troubles and political scandal, Blagojevich stressed that as governor he is obligated to fill the position.
The conference took an unexpected turn when Rep. Bobby Rush took the stage defending Burris’ appointment after reporters flooded Blogojevich with questions relating to charges for unlawfully trying to fill the seat.
Blagojevich was arrested earlier this month after allegedly attempting to sell the Senate seat to the highest bidder. A 76-page affidavit detailing wiretapped conversations reportedly show Blagojevich trying to obtain perks and professional positions for himself and his wife. The governor has denied any wrongdoing.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was among the 50 Democratic leaders in the Senate who refused to seat anyone named by the embattled governor. Reid penned a letter earlier this month insisting that Blagojevich step down.
After many years out of the public eye, Burris announced he was actively campaigning for Obama’s Senate seat at a Dec. 13 news conference in Chicago.
“I would go in there hitting the ground running, with an agenda for Illinois … with an agenda that the president-elect wants carried out across America, and that’s what I would be working on,” Burris said.
Obama released a report clearing his aides of any inappropriate discussions with Blagojevich or his office about the Senate seat. Obama has also called for the governor’s resignation.
If chosen, Burris said, he’d only serve the remainder of Obama’s term, two years, with no plans for campaigning for a another term. He also spoke out against the embattled governor.
“The evidence that’s been presented is purely appalling,” he said. “Should that come out to be the case of what our governor was attempting to do, I find it just reprehensible.”
Burris, 71, serves as senior counsel at Gonzalez Saggio & Harlan, a Milwaukee-based law firm with offices in Chicago. He is also an adjunct professor at Southern Illinois University.
Burris has long been a staple on the Illinois political scene. Early in his career, he was appointed to director of the Department of Central Management Services, where he served from 1973 to 1977. He became the first African American elected to statewide office in Illinois when he won state comptroller office in 1979. He held the position until 1991, thereafter serving as Illinois attorney general until 1995. In 1984, he lost the U.S. Senate Democratic primary, and he also unsuccessfully ran for governor in 2002, losing to Blagojevich in the Democratic primary.
Burris received a Bachelor of Arts in political science from Southern Illinois University, and holds a juris doctorate from Howard University School of Law. He was also an exchange student on scholarship to study International Law at the University of Hamburg in