December 15, 2006

An Immodest Proposal

Hatched by Dafydd

Everyone discussing the status of Sen. Tim Johnson (D-SD, 95%) focuses on the possibility (not certainty!) that he may have a lengthy convalescence, during which his status could be in limbo: technically, he would still be a member and could not be replaced by Gov. Michael Rounds; but he is neither present nor voting in the Senate, reducing the Democrats to a 50-49 plurality.

Commentators consider the various responses to this:

  1. Republicans could demand that he be replaced, as he is not really "in" the Senate (in this scenario);
  2. Democrats could insist that the rules don't require a senator to be physically present or voting, and there is ample precedent for Johnson to stay on the rolls;
  3. Republicans could filibuster the organizing resolution, which would leave us in the queer situation that Sen. Harry Reid (D-Excalibur, 100%) is Majority Leader of the Senate... but all the committee chairmanships remain frozen as they are today, with Republicans in power.

But this chain of events presupposes one particular decision at the beginning, a decision that must ultimately be made by Sen. Johnson himself: Johnson must decide, in the event of incapacitation, whether will stay in the Senate during his incapacity.

For his personal fortunes, of course he should stay; that way, even if it takes him over a year to recover, he still has his Senate seat when he returns. But there is another viewpoint: Sen. Johnson might decide that the citizenry of South Dakota deserves to have two senators, like every other state.

He might decide that, regardless of his personal desires, it's not fair to the state he loves to leave it with only half the representation in the Senate as it deserves. He might choose, therefore, to resign -- even knowing that the governor will appoint a Republican to serve out the remaining two years of his term.

(The pressure on Mike Rounds not to appoint a fire-breathing conservative, but a moderate Republican instead, will be overwhelming: after Johnson offered such an act of self-sacrifice in favor of his state as stepping aside, were Rounds to take advantage of that by putting in someone diametrically opposed to Johnson, it would look churlish and belligerent and would surely damage Rounds' own political career.)

I think this would be the right thing to do, even were the politics reversed: if Sen. John Kyl (R-AZ, 100%) were suddenly to take ill and be unable to attend office, debate, or vote, and if his convalescence were expected to take months or even a year, then I believe it would be proper for him to resign -- even knowing that Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano would appoint a Democrat to fill his term (assume for sake of discussion that Arizona has the same method of succession as South Dakota).

I understand the damage is greater in Johnson's case, because switching one seat would switch control of the Senate from Democrats to Republicans (because Vice President Dick Cheney would cast the tiebreaker on the organizational vote; even if the Democrats filibustered, that would simply leave all the same Republican chairmen in place). But the "damage" in this case is purely partisan; the damage to South Dakota of not having two senators fighting for their interests is more direct and bipartisan: it hurts every South Dakotan, not just those of one party.

If Johnson is fully recovered by 2008, he can run for election again; and he would have a very good chance of winning. But until then, if his recovery is expected to take a long time, possibly even indeterminate, then I believe he should do the manly thing and step aside.

Alas, I suspect the question of resignation is not in the card table, no matter how long it will take for Johnson to recover. We live in the age of Partei über Alles.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, December 15, 2006, at the time of 4:58 PM

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The following hissed in response by: nk

Let's just wish him well. He's more important to his loved ones than he is to the Senate or to the people of South Dakota.

The above hissed in response by: nk [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 15, 2006 7:43 PM

The following hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh


Let's just wish him well. He's more important to his loved ones than he is to the Senate or to the people of South Dakota.

I wish him no ill. Yet duty remains, even when a man is ailing.

FDR should have resigned the presidency before the Yalta Conference; he was not well enough, and it resulted in hell on Earth for the Baltics.

JFK should have revealed his infirmity and drug dependence before the election; voters were entitled to take that into account.

I believe that when one chooses a life of public service (including the military), then that must take precedence over one's personal life; if you can't do that -- for the period you serve -- then you shouldn't serve.

If Sen. Johnson makes a speedy recover and will only be an invalid for a few weeks, then there is no problem. But if he's going to be out for a year or eighteen months, then he must stop and consider what's in the best interests of his constituents.


The above hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 15, 2006 9:18 PM

The following hissed in response by: nk

I am reflecting personal issues. I have spent too many hours outside operating rooms and ICU visiting rooms in the last four years. Every man is in in fact indispensable ... to those who love him.

I do understand your point about prolonged illness as opposed to death or permanent incapacitation and admit that I am talking beside it.

The above hissed in response by: nk [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 15, 2006 9:45 PM

The following hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh


Actually, I think the two tracks converge: I'm pretty sure that he would recover quicker and more completely if he were not fretting about the Senate as well as seeing to his own recovery.


The above hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 15, 2006 11:15 PM

The following hissed in response by: TBinSTL

Once again I sense that no choice will yield a good result for us, long term. The Republicans will either bow to pressure and take what ever the Democrats want or they will get the snot beaten out of them in the press and limp into the evenly divided new session with a bunch of "moderates" trying to prove how bi-partisan and "fair" they are.
Either of these options will outrage one wing or the other of the party and lead to future defections to the couch or other parties.
Seeing the howls on FR over Bush being a nice guy and saying nice things about Mary Cheney are both predictable and tragic....and illustrative of such "Absolutism" as I see destroying the future chances of any right leaning movement in the near future.

The above hissed in response by: TBinSTL [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 16, 2006 5:49 PM

The following hissed in response by: Don

Dafydd, it's very important that the GOP not sppear to be attempting to reverse the judgment of the voters in any way - leave those kinds of tactics to Jim Jeffords and Tom Daschle. You saw what happened to Daschle - let's not act in the same overly clever manner.

The Democrats won the Senate fair and square and should be allowed to enjoy the fruits of power until the next election.

The above hissed in response by: Don [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 20, 2006 4:07 AM

The following hissed in response by: Don

I guess my point is that Republicans should not try to push Senator Johnson out - certainly not in any official manner. And Senators from the GOP should be sensitive about even expressing an opinion.

If Senator Johnson goes let him go in his own way and time of his choosing. If he chooses to act in a partisan manner then let the burden fall on him and his party.

South Dakotans are another matter; they have the right to express their opinion about their representation and should do so. It's really up to them....

The above hissed in response by: Don [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 20, 2006 4:11 AM

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