SPRINGFIELD — If U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk vacates his seat before his term ends in 2016, Illinois’ governor has the sole power to appoint a temporary replacement to serve until the next congressional election.
Although Kirk’s office made no public reference Monday to the possibility of the 52-year-old Republican ending his political career after suffering a stroke on Saturday, a number of other Illinois politicians have stepped down after suffering similar medical problems, including former Senate Minority Leader Frank Watson, R-Greenville and John Maitland of Bloomington.
Kirk himself was intertwined in the political and legal melee that ensued the last time Illinois had a vacant Senate seat.
Despite having been indicted on federal corruption charges just weeks before, former Gov. Rod Blagojevich appointed former Illinois Attorney General Roland Burris to fill out Barack Obama’s unexpired term in the Senate in 2008, causing outrage in both Springfield and Washington D.C.
While Burris was serving, Kirk and Democrat Alexi Giannoulias were battling it out in the 2010 election.
Two voters sued in federal court, arguing the 17th Amendment requires the state to hold a special election as soon as possible.
The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals eventually sided with the voters. By the time the matter reached the U.S. Supreme Court, however, Kirk had already been elected to the Senate seat.
Ken Menzel, legal counsel to the Illinois State Board of Elections, said the Illinois General Assembly has not adjusted current state law to reflect the appeals court decision, leaving the issue of special election timing in legal limbo for now.
Does Quinn have to appoint a Republican to fill out the rest of Kirk’s term, appoint a Democrat, or hold a special election in the event that Kirk dies or steps down?