There is a lot of movement to rework the laws of the state of Massachusetts so that Governor Deval Patrick can appoint a successor to the late Senator Edward Kennedy.
The state’s current rules for filling Senate vacancies — enacted five years ago to prevent then-Governor Mitt Romney, a Republican, from appointing a conservative Republican replacement to Democratic Senator (and 2004 party presidential nominee) John Kerry — require Patrick to call a special election that would be held in January or February of 2010.
Kennedy’s last formal request to Massachusetts officials was that they alter the law so that Patrick could make a temporary appointment to fill the seat during the five to six months (the state statute says 145 to 160 days) that would pass between the time of his death and the time of that special election.
“I strongly support the law and the principle that the people should elect their Senator,” Kennedy wrote in a letter delivered earlier this month to to Patrick, state Senate President Therese Murray, and Speaker of the Massachusetts House Robert DeLeo. “I also believe it is vital for this Commonwealth to have two voices speaking for the needs of its citizens and two votes in the Senate.”
When Kennedy made that request, there was resistance even from Democrats in the very Democratic state. They did not want to seem to be manipulating the state’s laws once more in order to assure that the senate seat would remain in the hands of a partisan.
Now that Kennedy has died, however, momentum seems to be shifting in favor of rewriting the rules.
The “logic” is easily understood: the great cause of Kennedy’s life was healthcare reform. That issue will be in play this fall. There are many Democrats who believes his seat should be occupied by a liberal Democrat who can help to advance that cause. And, besides, Massachusetts should have two senators — not one — during this critical period.
But the “logic” is flawed. If one believes that senators must be elected, it is unacceptable that vacancies should be filled — even temporarily — by individuals who have not faced the electorate.