- The Washington Times - Friday, December 26, 2008

President-elect Barack Obama’s Cabinet choices have sent a ripple through state politics, fostering behind-the-scenes jockeying to fill key vacancies in the shadow of the Chicago scandal over filling Mr. Obama’s Senate seat.

The shift started with the election of Mr. Obama and Vice President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr., senators from Illinois and Delaware respectively. His Cabinet and White House staff selections created two more Senate openings, as well as two in the House and two in gubernatorial seats, arousing interest from some of the nation’s most famous political families while creating opportunities for less prominent rising stars.

But it hasn’t all been optimism and upward mobility.

Illinois Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich has been accused of trying to sell the Senate seat Mr. Obama vacated after his election in November. The scandal has tainted the selection process for that seat and touched the search for replacements for other offices - including the House seat held by Mr. Obama’s incoming White House chief of staff, Rep. Rahm Emanuel.

The Illinois legislature earlier this month shelved plans to call a special election to fill Mr. Obama’s Senate seat, leaving Mr. Blagojevich with the appointment authority. But lawmakers also initiated impeachment proceedings against the governor, leaving the status of that seat up in the air.

If Lt. Gov. Patrick Quinn took over as governor, he could appoint someone, or the legislature could try again to force a special election. A host of prominent Illinois politicians are known to be interested, including Democratic Reps. Jesse L. Jackson Jr., Jan Schakowsky and Danny K. Davis.

As for Mr. Emanuel’s seat, state law requires a special election. Ditto for the House seat California Rep. Hilda L. Solis will give up if she’s confirmed as labor secretary.

Mr. Obama’s designees are causing another drama in New York. Senate confirmation of his choice of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton to be secretary of state would give Gov. David Paterson the power to appoint her successor.

Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, scion of a political dynasty who has been very private, indicated she’s interested and Mr. Paterson has said he’s considering her. But if she doesn’t work out, he might call on another legacy, state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, son of former governor Mario Cuomo.

A key question is who can raise the most money to keep the seat in Democratic Party hands in the special election that would follow in 2010.

The scenario is a bit more complicated in Arizona. Mr. Obama has tapped Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano to be secretary of homeland security. Arizona state law says the secretary of state - in this case Republican Jan Brewer - would be Mrs. Napolitano’s successor.

But Mrs. Napolitano has said she won’t step down until the Senate confirms her, which could happen no earlier than Mr. Obama’s inauguration on Jan. 20. That means Mrs. Napolitano will be governor Jan. 12, when the Republican-led legislature starts its 2009 session. Within a week, Mrs. Napolitano plans to present a proposed budget for the year that begins July 1 - months after she takes office in Washington.

Mr. Obama’s Cabinet pick for commerce secretary opens another governorship in New Mexico. There’s little drama surrounding who will replace Gov. Bill Richardson when he rises to the head of that agency. Lt. Gov. Diane Denish, a Democrat, will succeed him.

Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter Jr. has to pick a replacement for Sen. Ken Salazar, who is Mr. Obama’s choice to head the Interior Department.

In Delaware, Gov. Ruth Ann Minner announced earlier this month that Edward “Ted” Kaufman, a former aide to Mr. Biden, would succeed him in the Senate until a new senator is elected in 2010. By then, Mr. Biden’s son, Attorney General Beau Biden, will have returned from a tour in Iraq with the National Guard - just in time to run for his father’s seat.

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