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Massachusetts Liberal

Observations on politics, the media and life in Massachusetts and beyond from the left side of the road.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Another fine mess

Chalk up another one for Massachusetts legislative leaders. The messed up in 2004 with a blatant political power move aimed at denying Mitt Romney a U.S. Senate seat and they are now poised to take away state influence at a crucial moment in the health care debate.

House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Therese Murray have been largely silent on Sen. Edward Kennedy's request for yet another change in the law governing Senate vacancies. The law was changed five years ago, requiring a special election, to prevent Romney from naming himself in the event John Kerry won the presidency.

Ironically, Kennedy wants to revert to the system in place when he took office. He is asking lawmakers to allow for an interim appointee who will promise not to seek the job on a permanent basis -- much like Benjamin Smith, who warmed the seat between the time his brother John was elected president and Kennedy ran in a special election in 1962.

Elections are the right way to fill vacancies, even if lawmakers -- despite their pious protestations at the time -- changed the law for all the wrong reasons.

Changing it again -- to accommodate Kennedy's belief the state needs two senators when a health care vote can come down to one person -- would indeed be hypocritical. But since when is hypocrisy a new and unusual trait in politics?

Ask yourself this question -- would Massachusetts Republicans, if they had the votes, shy away from doing the same thing on "principle"?

To the victors go the spoils, and this is yet another reason Bay State Republicans should be kicking themselves over the "top of the ticket only" strategy that have followed for a generation. If they had created a base, they might be in a position to contest the move.

Which brings me to the reasoning behind Kennedy's call. With Republicans dug in to oppose everything in the health care debate -- hoping for what South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint called Obama's "Waterloo" -- power politics is clearly a major element of the game.

Lawmakers should sin now and repent in leisure. And Scot Lehigh's suggestion of Michael Dukakis as the seat warmer isn't a bad one. Dukakis has good health care credentials and no real interest in getting back on the political horse.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think everyone is missing a major point here. Senator Kennedy is not proposing that there be no election to pick his successor. Indeed, that would still take place in just a few months. His idea is to just make sure the seat is filled for that short period before that special election so MA is fully represented in the Senate.

This is different from the old days, when someone was appointed to fill out the ENTIRE remaining term, which could be a year or two.

So, the people would still have their voice, and the temporary appointee would have to agree not to run.

What strikes me as odd is how poorly this aspect has been explained, giving the Republicans a chance to misstate things.

August 21, 2009 7:02 AM  
Blogger Stealth said...

My preferred procedure for Senate vacancies has long been a temporary appointment followed soon by a special election. Which is almost what Kennedy proposes, except: why only a promise? The law should prohibit the temporary appointee from seeking the seat in the next election.

August 21, 2009 7:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I made the first comment here, but then I saw that someone on boston.com had made a good suggestion, as have many others who suggest that the Senator is (sadly) essentially out of office already:

"As difficult as it may be for him to accept, the honorable thing to do would be for Sen. Kennedy to submit his resignation, effective upon the election of his successor. That would allow the elective process to begin immediately. A Special Election could be scheduled within 90 days (the current law only says that the election must be held within 5 months, nothing prevents it being held sooner), and the representation would be uninterrupted."

August 21, 2009 7:56 AM  

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