Next week I’ll be giving our local legislators a call to get their thoughts on US Senator Ted Kennedy’s request to the Legislature regarding the possible need to fill his seat should, God forbid, it become vacant due to his ongoing health problems.
In July he sent a letter to Governor Deval Patrick, Senate President Therese Murray, and House Speaker Robert DeLeo asking them to amend state law to allow Patrick to appoint an “interim senator” until a special election could be held to fill the seat semi-permanently (until the next time Kennedy’s seat was up for grabs, which is 2012). Kennedy noted that there is a lot happening in Congress right now — most notably work on health care reform, a topic near and dear to the Senator for many reasons — and Massachusetts needed to maintain a continuity of representation.
Seems reasonable enough, but when you consider that the law was already changed once in the recent past, for reasons one could argue were transparently political, it takes on a whiff of B.S.
In 2004, when US Senator John Kerry was running for President, the Democrat-dominated Legislature pushed through a change to state law that stripped the governor (Mitt Romney at the time) of the authority to appoint a full replacement. They feared that, should Kerry leave the Senate, Romney would appoint a Republican successor. He certainly would have, so the Legislature blocked Romney’s ability to indulge party loyalty by amending the law. They avoided, at least on the surface, the perception that they were also playing at party politics by calling for special elections. That put the choice in the voters’ hands.
Now, Kennedy wants to partially reinstate the governor’s former authority over the matter, and again, the pitch is made in such a way as to present the illusion that it’s all in the name of fairness. By giving the (not so coincidentally Democratic) governor the power to appoint a temporary successor, that leaves the core of the law intact; voters still get to choose who would take over for Kennedy, but in the interim have full representation in Congress. Win-win, yes?
Except that whoever is appointed to that vacancy would ostensibly be someone who wants to hold the seat permanently, and in grabbing the post on an interim basis, that person gains an instant boost to their special election campaign — especially if they are lucky enough to participate in a crucial vote that reaps major benefits for Massachusetts voters.
(EDIT: This is, of course assuming that the governor honors Kennedy’s request to get from the appointee a commitment not to run as a candidate in the special election — a request that is Constitutionally dicey, I must add.)
If the Legislature adopts Kennedy’s requested change, it would be the second time in five years state lawmakers subtly stacked the deck in favor of maintaining a Democratic monopoly in our Congressional delegation.
Enough, people. You gave voters total control over who represents us at the federal level, so leave it there.
The views and opinions in the Enterprise blogs are those of the author and are not neccessarily shared by Falmouth Publishing.