Just when you thought Illinois politics couldn't get any crazier. Politico informs us that Representative Jesse Jackson Jr. has found some sudden respect for Republican Senatorial nominee Mark Kirk in the Illinois race to fill the ObamaSeat that is being vacated by that noted statesman Roland Burris.
Now, Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., who did not endorse anyone in the Democratic primary, is flirting with the idea of backing Republican nominee Mark Kirk in the general election. "I like Alexi Giannoulias, but I have great respect for Mark Kirk and his service to the people of Illinois," Jackson told POLITICO.
Jackson and Kirk work together on the House Appropriations Committee, on which both are senior members of the subcommittee that provides foreign aid.
It's exceedingly rare for a lawmaker of one party to endorse a colleague of the other party -- particularly within the same state -- meaning Jackson lending his name to Kirk would be a bit of a shock to the political system and a blow to Giannoulias's campaign.
If Jackson does go for Kirk -- or even remains neutral, which seems more likely -- Giannoulias will lose out on the veteran Democratic congressman's political operation on Chicago's South Side.
Readers will remember that Jackson was at the center of a controversy surrounding then Governor Rod Blagojevich (now a target of the U S Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald) and accusations that the ObamaSeat was being auctioned by the embattled governor. Jackson was rumored to have offered some serious change for the Senate seat and Blago is throwing subpoenas around like candy to prove that point.
"If I can bring [Obama's] chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, in to testify ... if I can bring Valerie Jarrett, a top staffer to President Obama in to testify, if I can bring Congressman Jackson, Sen. Durbin, Sen. Reid, Sen. [Robert] Menendez (D-N.J.) and a whole series of other people -- in fact, every single person I talked to about the Senate seat, then I can clear my name ... and fairness and justice will prevail," Blagojevich said at the time. Blagojevich was hoping to get testimony to fight impeachment proceedings in the Illinois Legislature. He was unsuccessful in his effort to present a defense with those witnesses and ultimately removed from office. Jackson met with Blagojevich to discuss the Senate seat on Dec 8, 2008, the day before the governor was arrested.
Now that Congressman Jackson may have put enough distance between himself and the stench of the Blago investigation one would think he wouldn't go there again, but this is Illinois and he is the son of the Rainbow Coalition / PUSH shakedown machine. Congressman Jackson's ostensible respect for the Republican candidate Mark Kirk makes perfect sense in the calculus of Chicago politics. If his new pal Kirk wins the election Jackson can run against him in the next election. If the Democratic nominee Giannoulias wins the general election Jackson will be frozen out of the seat for decades. But it gets better. Jackson's new found respect for his Republican colleague offers the best opportunity imaginable: a whole summer and fall election season to shakedown both parties for his endorsement. Does it get any better than this?