Burris won't say if he'll seek full term

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

MASCOUTAH, Ill. -- Roland Burris said Monday he's enjoying being Barack Obama's appointed successor in the U.S. Senate and will decide in due time whether to seek a full term -- never mind nagging questions about the disgraced governor who tapped him.

Burris is embarking on a 3-day tour of Southern Illinois to discuss the national recession's effect on the region. He stopped Monday for a briefing at Scott Air Force Base in Mascoutah, near St. Louis. The tour will continue with visits to Carbondale and Harrisburg today and Alton, Edwardsville and Granite City on Wednesday.

Burris, appointed in December by now-indicted and ousted governor Rod Blagojevich, sidestepped questions about when he may make up his mind about seeking election next year or whether he was leaning a certain way, saying only his decision would come reasonably before the state's primary, which is 10 months away.

The embattled Burris, a Democrat, said he's focused on "getting adjusted" to his Washington job and "trying to assess the opportunities." He said he has raised "not a dime" in campaign funds.

"I certainly will make a decision at the proper time as to what my plans are," the former Illinois attorney general said after a ceremonial groundbreaking at the future home of a new high school in this St. Louis suburb.

"What I'm at liberty to say is I'm enjoying the United States Senate, and I'm working very hard," he said.

Burris' tour comes as an investigation into whether he committed perjury before a state House committee continues. He's vowed to stay in his Senate seat despite the scrutiny.

Questions about his political future have dogged Burris since he was appointed to Obama's vacant seat Dec. 30 by Blagojevich, who just three weeks earlier was arrested on federal corruption charges. Last week, Blagojevich was indicted by federal grand jurors.

The federal charges are all about money, including the big bucks Blagojevich, also a Democrat, is accused of trying to collect selling or swapping the Senate seat.

Illinois lawmakers had considered stripping Blagojevich of his Senate-appointment powers after his December arrest but couldn't agree on legislation. Blagojevich, 52, eventually was booted from office in January, at every turn denying he'd done anything illegal.

Burris has come under fire for changing his story about the circumstances surrounding his appointment, first saying he hadn't contacted a key Blagojevich adviser about the seat but later releasing an affidavit saying he had spoken to several advisers, including the governor's brother.

He also acknowledged trying, unsuccessfully, to raise money for Blagojevich.

The Sangamon County's state's attorney is reviewing Burris' testimony before the state House impeachment panel to determine if criminal charges are warranted. On Monday, Burris said he had not been approached by that prosecutor but would "fully cooperate."

"I'm looking forward to that; maybe it can help move it along," Burris said, adding that Blagojevich's legal tangle "has absolutely nothing to do with me."

"I was appointed United States senator by a sitting governor. It's legitimate, and that's the extent of it," he said.

Burris tried to look senatorial Monday, and at least twice during his brief remarks inside Mascoutah's high school gym, he reminded the roughly 100 onlookers that he was on the Senate's Armed Services Committee and had just visited Scott Air Force Base in this community's back yard.

Burris got favorable reviews from Loraine Yarber and Carol Klopmeyer, two 76-year-old Mascoutah High alums of 1950 who insisted they'd have an open mind about perhaps voting for Burris next year if he seeks election. For now, they said he should get a break, having been only sworn in since mid-January.

"Let's see what he does," Yarber said.

But Charles Lee, a Republican on the St. Clair County Board, said Burris, whether tainted or not, can't avoid the cloud of corruption swirling around Blagojevich.

"I think we need a change because [of] this whole pot of corruption," he said. "Whether he seeks re-election or not, that's his option. But I can't see it as a positive thing for the state."

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