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Choosing Massachusett’s Next Senator

Ted Kennedy is dead, and that is all I have to say on the topic of Ted Kennedy.  But the questions of who will succeed him and how that person will be selected – now those are things I can write about.

The last time the Republicans won a Senate seat in Massachusetts was 1972: Edward Brooke, the first popularly elected black Senator.  When Paul Tsongas unseated him in 1978, the Democrats spent the next 25+ years with two “safe” seats from Massachusetts.  In the summer of 2004, they were horrified to realize that their success might mean failure: Sen. John Kerry was running away with the presidential race, and Mitt Romney, Republican, was governor.  When Kerry won the presidency, Romney would get to appoint an interim replacement.  Failure.

In 2004, as today, the Democrats held more than 80% of the seats in the legislature.  They were losing the game, but they had the power to re-write the rules, so they did.  They proposed a law that would strip Romney of his power to appoint a Senator.  The Republicans offered an amendment to permit an interim appointment.  The amendment was shot down, the bill was approved, Romney vetoed, the veto was overridden, and on July 30, 2004, the law was passed.  Read some of the quotes from the debate, and keep the window open for re-reading in a couple paragraphs.  They’re funny, in a sad kind of way.

Fast forward to today.  The national Democrats desperately want another (D) in Washington, but the state legislature is hogtied by its past actions.  They could change the law again and let Gov. Patrick appoint an interim Senator, but that would expose them as partisan hacks.  Or, they could do nothing and watch health care reform founder – the signature priority of their party’s new President.  It’s really a no-win situation for them; no matter what they look like unprincipled partisan whores.  I think this conclusion is an accurate one. It’s nice to see it in black and white without much room for spinning, dodging, or blaming.

There are a couple winners here:

  • Congratulations to the unnamed adviser to Gov. Patrick who convinced him to make a full-throated endorsement of interim appointments.  Patrick is one of the few statehouse figures that can distance himself from the 2004 power grab.  Everyone knows he wasn’t governor in 2004.  Either he gets to appoint the 60th vote in the health care cloture vote, or he gets to tell the legislature “I told you so.”  And with almost no political downside!
  • Potentially, congratulations to the Republicans.  They made the right arguments in 2004.  It’s impossible to prove whether that was principle or luck, but they get to bask in it now.  If they’re smart, they’ll stick to the same tune, but quietly at first.  If the leaders on Beacon Hill bring the issue to a vote, they should support the vote, and then congratulate the Dems on correcting their error in 2004.  If the Dems don’t bring it to a vote, they get to make hay for each day the seat goes empty.  Every vote, health care and all, they issue a press release bemoaning the short-sightedness of the leadership.  Of course, they can still screw this up -  if they oppose the vote, they also look like partisan whores.  Think red clothing instead of blue.

I’m not a fan of appointments.  Senators should be elected, not appointed.  The counter-argument is that for 100+ days, the state will only have one Senator, that we’re under-represented.  I just don’t think that matters in a 3-4 month timeframe.  I just don’t feel shortchanged.

So here’s what I’d do:  Make the time frame shorter, and hold the election in Oct/Nov rather than Dec/Jan.  Change the electoral calendar from 145-160 days to something like 105-120 days.  Hold the elections in November, at the same time as many cities, and save them some money.  Seat the new guy (or gal) in time for the New Year.  This blunts the “under-represented” argument.  And for the people who want a longer campaign – do you think anyone’s going to vote during the holiday season?  Not too likely.

It’s a change based on calendar, not party.


Comment from octopusgrabbus
Time: August 27, 2009, 5:37 am

In this case turnabout isn’t fair play. They’ve see-sawed too much.

Comment from Dan
Time: August 27, 2009, 9:27 am

“No matter what they look like unprincipled partisan whores” such brilliance expressed in so few words.

Comment from Josh
Time: August 27, 2009, 10:18 am

Argh, short-sighted Dems! Stupid one-party state!

Comment from Julie
Time: August 27, 2009, 3:52 pm

He is not even buried yet and you are using Ted Kennedy’s passing to spout Republican rhetoric. You’re a class act.

Comment from dunster
Time: August 27, 2009, 4:25 pm

Julie, you need to take a couple deep breaths.

1) I didn’t say anything about Kennedy. Really.
2) If you don’t think anyone should be talking about the vacant Senate seat, I hope you also have taken the time to complain to Gov. Patrick. He’s been publicly vocal on the exact same topic since Kennedy’s death. I share the Governor’s view that the vacancy is legitimate topic of discussion.
3) This isn’t Republican rhetoric, or Democratic rhetoric, or Patrick rhetoric. It’s mine.

I promise to keep classy.