Republican Mark Kirk will be sworn in as the new junior senator from Illinois this afternoon. What happened to the old junior senator? Until 2008, that was Barack Obama. After his election to the White House, the seat was filled by Roland Burris. Burris was appointed by a professional comedian named Rod Blagojevich, during a hilarious bit of performance art in which he pretended to be the governor of Illinois for several years, lampooning popular stereotypes of corrupt politicians.
Blagojevich has since moved on to reality-TV shows, so it was time to fill that Senate seat with a permanent occupant. Kirk ran a close race against the shadowy Alexi Giannoulias, who used his family’s bank to fund a few extra seasons of “The Sopranos” with an exciting new cast, frequently indicted for their realistic portrayals. RNC chairman Michael Steele is under a lot of criticism for extravagant spending at the moment, but maybe he should authorize a few bucks to hire someone who can follow Kirk around for the next six years, hissing “That should not have been a close race!” in his ear.
Kirk was not the only winner of a special election to fill a prematurely vacated seat in 2010. Joe Manchin won the seat formerly held by West Virginia Senator-for-Life Robert Byrd, whose tenure ended the only way it could. Chris Coons won Vice President Joe Biden’s old position in Delaware. Manchin and Coons have already been sworn in, and taken their spots at the Lame Duck Pond on Capitol Hill. What took Kirk so long to join them?
The official story from Illinois state officials is that “paperwork” delayed Kirk from taking his seat. Curious observers from other states must understand that Illinois has to process a lot of paperwork when Republicans win seats from Democrats, especially when the Republican campaigns on a promise to block “radical legislation” in the lame-duck session of Congress. Those Obstruction of Lame Duck Congress Release Authorization Permits are hundreds of pages long, and require a ton of official signatures, which must be witnessed by randomly selected voters, some of which must be dead, in accordance with longstanding Chicago tradition.
At last the paperwork has been signed, and Mark Kirk will have his swearing-in ceremony this afternoon. Hopefully he remembered to obtain the appropriate permits for his reception.