Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick. (Flickr/Rappaport Center)
Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick has rejected former Congressman Barney Frank’s request that he be appointed to fill the vacancy created by Senator John Kerry’s resignation to serve as secretary of state. Despite the fact that progressive groups urged the Frank pick for the temporary slot—arguing that the former congressman could play a critical, perhaps definitional, role in budget fights over cutting Pentagon waste and taxing speculators—the governor instead picked his former chief of staff.
The new senator, William “Mo” Cowan, has long been close to the governor, having formerly served as Patrick’s legal counsel. He’s experienced, capable and politically connected, a well-regarded lawyer who has worked not just with Patrick but also with former Governor Mitt Romney (whom Cowan helped identify judicial picks). He’ll be the state’s second African-American senator, after liberal Republican Ed Brooke, who served in the 1960s and 1970s. As a lawyer, Cowan has been active with the American Constitution Society—joining in the society’s “work to advance the progressive values and principles of the U.S. Constitution”—which counts for a lot with Americans who seek to challenge right-wing judicial activism.
But, as with his selection of former Democratic National Committee Paul Kirk to fill the interim vacancy created by the death of Senator Edward Kennedy, Patrick has gone with a connected insider rather than someone who is likely to shake things up in the Senate.
Patrick says he’s now got “a valued ally” in the Senate.
And there is no reason to doubt that this is the case.
But, of course, this is the problem with letting governors, be they Republicans or Democrats, appoint US senators. The Massachusetts circumstance is less troublesome than in states such as Hawaii and South Carolina, which will be represented for more than two years by recently appointed senators. A special election in June will replace Cowan with a senator chosen by the voters.
But gubernatorial appointments of senators, be they for a few months, or for a few years, make the United States Senate, never a perfectly representative body, a good deal less representative.
Cowan will join three appointed senators in the chamber during what Barney Frank correctly identified as a particularly critical period in the chamber.