Mo' better senator?
That's the mini-debate swirling in the wake of Patrick's choice of his former chief of staff to warm the seat left vacant by soon-to-be-Secretary of State John Kerry. The principal requirement Patrick had laid down was the interim senator have no designs on the permanent job.
In naming Cowan, Patrick has installed the state's second African-American (and the first Democrat) to sit beside the state's first woman US senator. A delegation that once had decades of clout in Kerry and Edward M. Kennedy now measures seniority in hours.
The choice has left some in the punditocracy scratching their heads, wondering if Patrick sacrificed experience for symbolism in rejecting Barney Frank's request for the appointment.
The argument goes that in naming Cowan, Patrick bypassed someone with legislative experience like Frank, or stature like former Gov,. Michael Dukakis.
That line of reasoning ignores the reality that the person standing 100th in the line of seniority is going to have a hard time making a serious contribution, no matter how much political experience they bring to the table.
The exception may have indeed been Frank. But he remains anathema to the GOP and his propensity to throw his weight and experience around in a 120-day job might have had the exact opposite impact, particularly in a chamber that likes to think of itself as a genteel debating society. Frank earned his House clout -- and a raft of enemies to boot.
Cowan is a nuts and bolts man. As a chief of staff his job was to set the table and then make sure things happened as planned. In a chamber of executives, many who fancy themselves as the next president, it could be a bonus to have someone who can translate rhetoric into reality by guiding, rather than leading a process.
And let's never forget this is a temporary job -- over on June 26. Does anyone truly believe the nation's fiscal troubles, decades in the making, will be solved in the next few months? In a chamber that requires a three-fifths majority to get a bathroom break and whose members work a couple of days a week?
Cowan brings a different skill set from the traditional legislators, something that may just be an asset in dealing with a mess created by traditional legislators.
And in the interim, voters can decide which traditional legislator is right to hold the seat until 2014, when we can do the Senate election thing one more time.