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What I Watched Last Night: Mystery Raoul Theater

Another revealing Chicago Tonight panel about Roland Burris, but not as revealing about Burris as about the legislators who appeared. Namely, what's the deal with state Sen. Kwame Raoul, the man who replaced Barack Obama in the Senate?

When the political grapevine first started chattering about who would replace Obama in the U.S. Senate should he win the presidency, I offered up Raoul's name. Why? I didn't know a lot about him, but he appeared to be Obama's designated successor in the State Senate, so why not in the U.S. Senate? In reports I had read, he was always described as a smart, articulate up-and-comer. And he was African American. Perfect!

I didn't know then that Obama reportedly preferred Will Burns to succeed him in the statehouse. Burns also had the support of Emil Jones, but the Dems went another way.

But I've tried to pay at least a little bit of attention to Raoul ever since. And during the Blago affair - and again last night - I've been nothing but baffled. Which is another way of saying not impressed.

Raoul appeared on Chicago Tonight with fellow Democrat Susana Mendoza (who once again was the star) and Republicans Dan Cronin and Mike Fortner. This is a rough transcript edited for clarity and space. My commentary is from the couch in Beachwood HQ. Let's take a look.

RAOUL: Durkin should have gone through the names specifically; [Burris] did answer Yes . . . Lawyers advise clients to only the answer questions that are asked.

FORTNER: Whether or not it's perjury, I think the public here in Illinois has lost a lot of faith in Senator Burris . . . the moment called for transparency . . . that lack of trust, I don't think that can be repaired.

MENDOZA: I think it's [senate ethics and state perjury investigations are] a good start . . . [she and Rep. Jack Franks asked for Senate inquiry, ethics investigation] . . . I heard every word that came out of the senator's mouth . . . he was asked a very specific question . . . it shouldn't have taken some special legalese to answer the question . . . and there was follow-up by Rep. Jill Tracy . . . besides Lon Monk out of those names, and he said, I cannot recall. It couldn't be any clearer: he lied.

RHODES: Take that, Kwame.


CRONIN: The referral to the state's attorney is a distraction . . . to raise the standard to perjury . . . this isn't even debatable . . . he had a moral obligation to fully disclose . ..

RAOUL: I removed my name from consideration and I thought he should have also removed his name from consideration . . . [but] there's not anything clear here that there was some sort of quid pro quo agreement . . .

MENDOZA: He has not been forthright and honest from the get-go. He's on version number four. What's tomorrow's story going to be, that he suddenly remembered he did write a check?

RHODES: Mendoza 2, Raoul 0.


ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Why not bring him back to panel?

CRONIN: It would undermine the whole allegation of perjury . . . he could rehabilitate himself . . . [he would be allowed to correct earlier statements] . . . what concerns me is the process itself . . . that [amended affidavit] sat around for 10 days . . . I don't believe in coincidences . . . it sat there while Roland Burris is casting the 60th vote on that monumental stimulus plan . . .

BRACKETT: National Dems wanted to see him seated to cast vote?

CRONIN: There was a lot of money on the table.

RHODES: Republicans - including state Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno - are overplaying their hand with this one. If Burris hadn't been seated, another Democrat would have. If Cronin meant to refer to the nine days that Burris's amended affidavit sat in a folder, well, Burris wouldn't have lost voting privileges. And if he had been forced to resign, there was enough time for Pat Quinn to name a replacement and for that person to be sworn-in. (Plus, I doubt Barbara Flynn Currie called Dick Durbin and Harry Reid and said, Hey, we've got a problem here! But I suppose we never know . . . )


FORTNER: We had a transparent process during the impeachment hearings . . . evidence went up on the website the same day . . . it seems that the ball was dropped after Governor Blagojevich was removed from office. Why didn't we see the same type of posting immediately?


RAOUL: I think there are questions to be asked [of Burris], but the bottom line is there was overwhelming evidence for the impeachment and removal of the governor.

RHODES: Did you just get back into town or something?

RAOUL: For me, [more candor from Burris] wouldn't have added anything to my deliberations to remove Rod Blagojevich as governor.

RHODES: Um, can we have Monique Davis back? At least she was on point.


MENDOZA: [The U.S. Senate] can censure . . . they also have the ability to expel, with a two-thirds' majority vote . . . this could all be completely avoided if Senator Burris does the right thing and resigns . . . he's a former attorney general of the state of Illinois, I can't emphasize that enough . . . we tell our children they have to be honest, and that doesn't mean half-truths or quarter-truths.

RAOUL: I don't know that he should resign unless there's evidence of pay-to-play or quid pro quo. [Raoul then claims he could impeach any member of that night's panel on perjury by finding inconsistencies in sworn statements.]

RAOUL: I think the specific questions should have been asked.

RHODES: As the transcripts have shown, the specific questions were asked. Despite John Fritchey.


BRACKETT: Is there a racial factor here?

RAOUL: The black community is a whole lot more diverse than you think it is. That's not the determinative factor for me. I disagreed with him accepting the appointment. I don't know if I'm defending him.

CRONIN: You're defending him.


See what else we've been watching. Submissions welcome.


Posted on February 18, 2009

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