Try to imagine what would happen if an Australian governor or premier were accused, on wiretapped evidence made public, that he or she had attempted to sell a Senate vacancy in return for money and lucrative appointments.
Imagine also that the governor or premier threatened that if such consideration were not forthcoming, the governor or premier would appoint himself or herself to the vacancy.
And then imagine the situation if the governor or premier then tried to stay in office.
In Australia the functions of an American governor, a politician, are divided – in my view wisely so – between the governor who is above politics and is the constitutional guardian, and the premier who is a politician.
In my hypothetical case, a premier would surely lose a vote of no confidence in the house or be removed by the governor. In the case of the governor, the premier would advise The Queen either to appoint someone else or to remove the Governor. The Queen would undoubtedly accept that advice.
In other words, such a serious problem would be resolved in hours if not days under our constitutional system.
…meanwhile, in Illinois…
On 12 December 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 already under investigation in relation to the trial of Tony Rezko, incidentally a major donor of President –elect Obama. Staff of Senator Obama discussed with the Governor who should fill the office, but no impropriety is alleged.
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 also demanded the publishers of the Chicago Tribune dismiss an editor before he would approve the sale of a sports ground.
The Governor has dug his heels in. He has not resigned, and remains in the Governor's Mansion.
So a committee has been appointed by the Illinois House of Assembly, meeting in the impressive Capitol Building in Springfield, which is the state capital. It will recommend whether the House should impeach the governor.
This is a process which came from England. It was used by Parliament to try, remove and punish high officials including the King’s ministers. This was before the evoltution of the constitutional monarchy from 1688.
(Impeachments have not been used concerning ministers in Britain for over 200 years, although in In 2006, General Sir Michael Rose curiously called for the impeachment of the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, over the Iraqi war. It is retained for judges.
The impeachment process is sometimes confused with the Bill of Attainder which, without proof at a trial , declared the accused guilty, usually of high treason. When the impeachment of the Earl of Strafford over his role as Lord Deputy of Ireland failed in 1641, a Bill of Attainder was passed by both Houses and Strafford was executed. Strafford courageously called on The King to sign the Bill, fearng the consequences for the nation if he refused. But civil war was not long averted.)
With the development of the more sophisticated Westminster system, this is no longer needed there, or Canada, New Zealand, Australia and similar advanced countries. Unfortunately for the Americans, this developed after they gained their independence.
Unless Governor Blagojevich decides to resign, the long slow process will grind on. Presumably a lengthy document listing his offences, the Articles of Impeachment will be drawn up. The House will vote on this.
If the House adopts the Articles, section 14 of the Illinois constitution provides: “Impeachments shall be tried by the Senate. When sitting for that purpose, Senators shall be upon oath, or affirmation, to do justice according to law.
“ If the Governor is tried, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court shall preside. No person shall be convicted without the concurrence of two-thirds of the Senators elected.”
The section limits the role of the Senate, so it cannot do what the House of Lords once did, punish the official.
It provides “Judgment shall not extend beyond removal from office and disqualification to hold any public office of this State. An impeached officer, whether convicted or acquitted, shall be liable to prosecution, trial, judgment and punishment according to law.”
Our system ensures greater responsibility and accountability for politicians than the US system, although the introduction of the recall election in some states has gone some way in reducing the rigour of fixed terms.
A glaring example of the failings of the US system came after the Bay of Pigs fiasco in Cuba.
President Kennedy, who was responsible for the failed interventions, told the CIA deputy head:
“If this were the UK, you as the civil servant would continue and I would resign. But it’s not.
“In the United States, I continue and you resign.”
When Senator Brown deigns to tell us what sort of republic he has in mind in his proposal to hold a plebiscite at the next election, he could explain how his republic would deal with this situation.