Roland Burris is the former attorney general of the state of Illinois and he has an unblemished record-a record that is unbelievable in today's world of politics. He came to Washington, D.C. with no "baggage," figuratively and literally. Well, almost. In addition to being a former public official with an impeccable record, Burris went to the nation's capital expecting bumps along the way to the U.S. Senate. Leaders in the Senate had made it plain that they would not welcome any new member that had been appointed by Rod Blagojevich, the governor of Illinois who had been arrested and was therefore tainted.
However, Burris stood his ground; he was not going to be complicit in a guilt-by-association tactic that the Senate had employed. As his state's top legal officer, Burris knew that despite politics, the law was on his side; his appointment to the Senate, though it had an odorous rancor, was solidly legal. Not only was it legal, he had a precedent on his side. (The late Representative Adam Clayton Powell had a similar case with the Congress and he prevailed in the U.S. Supreme Court).
Part of the Senate's reason for not seating Burris was the absence of proper certification in his official documents: his senatorial credentials were not signed by the Illinois Secretary of State. Recently, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that his credentials did not need the Secretary of State's signature to be valid; apparently the governor's signature was sufficient. Overcoming that hurdle placed Burris a step closer to the "prize."
Now the Senate, led by Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada), and Richard "Dick" Durbin (D-Illinois), appears to be inching closer to resolving the matter and seating Burris without anymore fanfare.
The historical (and racial) significance of replacing an African American senator from Illinois who ascended to the presidency had not totally escaped the governor or the senate leaders. And though the Senate, obviously taking their cue from Barack Obama who tries his best to avoid racial issues, also disclaimed any racial overtones, the U.S. Senate is considered by many historians as one of the last bastion of the "good ole White men's club."
It is important to note that in over 200 years, there have been five Black U.S. Senators in the nation's history: two appointed (Hiram R. Revels, and Blanche K. Bruce, both Republicans from Mississippi) and three elected (Edward W. Brooke, R-Massachusetts); Carol Moseley-Braun and Barack Obama, both Democrats from Illinois). Regardless of the stereotypical taint that has been applied to Chicago politics specifically and Illinois in general, the state has produced two of the five Black senators in the nation's history and it has just appointed a sixth one. Notwithstanding, Illinois has also produced the first Black president in the U.S. and that is its most historic achievement in politics.