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Let voters have their say for comptroller in 2016

Attorney General Lisa Madigan gave Gov. Pat Quinn the cover he needs Monday to gracefully pull his head out of his fanny and kill off this notion that he gets to pick Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka’s replacement beyond this last month of her expiring term.

Madigan’s legal opinion — clarifying that Quinn’s appointee should serve only until the end of the current term and that Gov.-elect Bruce Rauner may name someone to replace Topinka for the new term that starts Jan. 12 — ought to put an end to the matter.

Although legal theories to the contrary have been advanced by Democrats since Topinka’s death, most likely in hopes of finding a safe place to park some of their loyalists after the loss of the governor’s office, Quinn needs to make clear that anyone he appoints should step down when he does.

Ever since the November election, Quinn has seemed either determined to embarrass the people who voted for him — or indifferent when he does so — beginning with his Election Night refusal to concede defeat.

He followed that up with the wrong-headed decision to allow his appointees on the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority to hire his campaign manager for the lucrative job of executive director.

Now, we have him flirting with the idea he has the power to appoint a constitutional officer who could continue to serve until the next election — up to four years into the future.

To be fair, Quinn has never said outright he intends to argue for his comptroller fill-in to serve Topinka’s next term as well, instead demurring on the question until after her funeral service this Wednesday.

On Monday, the only statement from Quinn’s office was: “The Governor appreciates the Attorney General’s counsel and is reviewing it.”

But every indication is that while Quinn may appreciate Madigan’s counsel, he’s not persuaded by her reading of the Illinois Constitution.

If Quinn doesn’t care enough about his own legacy to be a class act on his way out the door, maybe he could think about the millions who voted for him for governor over two separate elections.

Only the most committed partisans would back this play.

Perhaps the Illinois Constitution could have been a little more explicit about what happens when an elected official dies under the unusual circumstances of already having been re-elected but not yet sworn in.

But no common sense interpretation of the law can justify this sort of a blatant power play.

I haven’t heard anybody offer a logical explanation of why the framers of the Constitution would have wanted to nullify the voters’ decision in November to re-elect Topinka — only a legalistic argument that a judge appointed under similar circumstances in 1942 was allowed to keep his seat by the state Supreme Court.

Rauner, for his part, ought to take this opportunity to show he’s going to be the kind of politician he claimed during the campaign by embracing the call for an election that would limit the term of the person he appoints.

As Madigan was the latest to observe, there’s no reason for Rauner’s appointee to serve more than two years with a statewide election already scheduled in 2016.

A Rauner spokesman indicated Monday he plans to appoint someone for the full four years, arguing the Constitution doesn’t allow for a special election. Glad to see we elected a statesman.

As far as Quinn’s short-term appointee, I don’t care if he appoints somebody political. He’s not legally or ethically bound to appoint a Republican just because Topinka was a Republican. He’s certainly does not need to “respect the wishes of the Topinka family,” as Rauner suggested.

If Quinn had been elected last month instead of Rauner, he would have been under no requirement to appoint a Republican to the new term either.

But he ought to be ethically bound not to create a problem where one doesn’t sensibly exist.

If this ends up in a court fight at this stage, it’s Quinn’s fault, plain and simple. If Rauner gets in the way of a special election, that’s on him.

Show some respect for the people of Illinois: appoint a qualified caretaker to finish out this last month and move on, then let the voters have their say again in 2016.