The scandal about the alleged sale of President-elect Obama’s senate seat by the state governor is inconceivable in Australia. Australian governors are appointed by the Sovereign on the recommendation of the premier. They are required to be above politics. They owe their allegiance to the Australian Crown, and not to the premier or his or her party.
At a function recently a leading lawyer expressed surprise to me that removing the Australian Crown was still on the political agenda, given the very clear decision by the people in 1999.
I explained that we do still hear calls for Australia to become a politicians’ republic from both politicians and elements in the media, but the leading proponents will not now explain what they have in mind.
I said that the republicans know they would lose another referendum, and that is why they want a glorified but dangerous opinion poll or plebiscite.
I explained the republican establishment these days is divided over having even more politicians as governor and lieutenant governors or having the politicians appoint people loyal to them and under their control.
Neither prospect is attractive.
Once people realise what the republican politicians have up their sleeves they will no doubt say no.
In the meantime, the US scandal became public when the Governor of Illinois Rod Blagojevich was arrested for trying to sell the right to replace President – elect Barack Obama in the US Senate.
The Governor was caught on FBI wire taps indicating he was trying to obtain a personal financial benefit from the appointment of a new senator. This included a possible appointment to the Obama cabinet or being made an ambassador, which is a political appointment in the US.
According to a prosecution affidavit, Blagojevich said that Senator Obama’s seat "is a f****** valuable thing, you just don't give it away for nothing".
The affidavit alleged the governor said that unless "I get something real good", he would appoint himself.
"I'm going to keep this Senate option for me a real possibility, you know, and therefore I can drive a hard bargain. You hear what I'm saying. And if I don't get what I want and I'm not satisfied with it, then I'll just take the Senate seat myself."
According to the prosecution, he also discussed the possibility of obtaining a lucrative union position for himself, setting up a well funded charity to control and board positions for his wife.
They say he demanded the publishers of the Chicago Tribune dismiss an editor before he would approve the sale of a sports ground.
The Governor is also under investigation in relation to the trial of Tony Rezko, a major donor of President –elect Obama.
There is no suggestion the future president was involved, but commentators are warning that if the Governor does not resign, the President –elect is likely to be embarrassed as revelations emerge about corruption in Chicago politics.
…the constitutional provisions…
Until 1913 US senators were elected by the legislature of each state. This was changed by the Seventeenth Amendment to the US Constitution.
Surprisingly for a document which begins with the words “We the people, “the Constitution may be amended without reference to the people. An amendment must be proposed by a two thirds vote in both houses and then requires ratification by the congress in three quarters of the states.
The Seventeenth Amendment provides that the Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State elected directly by the people for six years.
In the event of a casual vacancy, the state governor is to issue writs of election to fill the vacancy. This is subject to the proviso that the legislature of any State may empower the Governor to make temporary appointments “until the people fill the vacancies by election as the legislature may direct.”
It was expected that the Illinois Governor would make a temporary appointment which would last until 2011 after the next congressional elections in 2010.
Under section 15 of the Australian Constitution, a casual vacancy is filled by the state or territory parliament. Where the Parliament is not sitting the Governor acting on the advice of the executive council may make a strictly temporary appointment. But such temporary appointments are strictly limited to 14 days from the beginning of the next session of the relevant parliament.
If the Australian people are asked yet again whether they wish to keep their constitutional system, even republicans admit they are likely to want to keep the treasure we have.