Rejecting prospects who had sought and won statewide office, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick has selected a veteran political insider, former Democratic National Committee chairman Paul Kirk, to fill the U.S. Senate seat vacated by the late Senator Edward Kennedy.
Kirk, a close Kennedy family friend who served as the former senator’s special assistant during the challenging period from 1969 to 1977, is currently the chairman of the board of directors for the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation.
Kirk, 71, was reportedly the pick of the Kennedy family.
That apparently settled matters for Patrick, and it means that Kirk will serve in the Senate until the Massachusetts seat is filled by a January 19 special election.
The Massachusetts legislature restructured state law to allow Patrick to appoint a temporary successor to Kennedy.
That was a victory for the Obama administration and congressional Democrats, who have wanted to fill the Massachusetts seat with a Democrat until a January special election chooses a senator to fill out the remainder of Kennedy’s term.
But, while this might be a win for Democrats, this is not a win for democracy.
No one should serve in the Senate without first having been elected.
Kirk will join the Senate after having won precisely one vote: that of Patrick.
In choosing Kirk, Patrick passed over several prospects who had sought and served in statewide elective positions.
Former Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis, the 1988 Democratic nominee for president secured the endorsement of The Boston Globe newspaper, which argued this week that, “The ideal candidate for the interim job would have a high profile, significant policy expertise, and a record of political independence – but no further political ambitions. Dukakis is the most logical choice; indeed, he may be the only one who meets all the relevant criteria.”
Other contenders included Kirk, Harvard Law School professor Charles J. Ogletree and former Massachusetts Lt. Governor Evelyn Murphy.
Ogletree was, in many senses, the most intriguing and appealing contender. But, like Kirk, he had no record of election or service in statewide office.
That was a strength that Dukakis and Murphy possessed.
As such, they were the most credible prospects.
And that should have mattered.
When a governor selects a senator, the appointee should have some record of having run and won statewide.
Appointment, even of a former elected official, is still an unacceptable route to the Senate.
But it is less of an assault on democratic values than the appointment of someone who has never sought or received votes.
Unfortunately, Patrick chose not to take it.
That’s disappointing. But the game of appointing senators is, almost invariably, disappointing for small “d” democrats.
Ultimately, the solution to this sordid circumstance will come from beyond Massachusetts.Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold has proposed a constitutional amendment to require that all Senate vacancies be filled by special elections.
That would put an end to partisan political gamesmanship of the sort seen in Massachusetts — and of the one-governor/one-vote calculus that allows senators selected by individual state officials to have the same role in shaping national and international policy as senators elected by millions of voters.
Hopefully, Senator Kirk will recognize this imbalance and sign on as a co-sponsor of Feingold’s proposal to assure that, someday, all senators will be elected.