This column was picked up by Liberty Features Syndicate September 2nd.
When the Massachusetts legislature next convenes it’s possible that their very first order of business will be to complete the final chapter in the late Senator Ted Kennedy’s legacy and preserve the precious 60-seat majority the Democrats currently hold in the Senate.
The story dates back to 2004. Senator John Kerry became the Democratic nominee for President and during most of that summer it looked like he could unseat the incumbent President Bush. Worried Bay State Democrats fretted about a Massachusetts state law which allowed the Governor to select a successor if the Senate seat became vacant because at the time Mitt Romney, a Republican, was the state’s chief executive. Democrats, spearheaded by the urging of Ted Kennedy, rammed through a new law which provided the state fills its Senate vacancies solely through a special election. As events played out the new law was rendered moot; however, no one took any steps to change the law back and it remains on the books in Massachusetts.
Fast forward to 2009 and the news that Senator Kennedy was gravely ill. Despite the fact that Democrats have a hammerlock on state government and Massachusetts owns the distinction of being the largest state with a single-party Congressional delegation, a recent letter by Kennedy to Governor Deval Patrick revealed a cynical ploy to reverse the 2004 law and allow Patrick to appoint a temporary caretaker successor – presumably as early as late September. With the Democrats no longer sitting on a filibuster-proof cushion in the United States Senate, Kennedy’s death and the resulting vacancy puts the Democrats in a position where any measure they wish to pass needs at least one Republican vote to invoke cloture.
As written 5 years ago, the Massachusetts law compels Governor Patrick, a Democrat, to call a special election at a date between 145 and 160 days after the seat becomes vacant due to death or resignation but does not allow him to choose a temporary placeholder for the seat. With Kennedy’s August 25th death it leaves the special election date to sometime in late January or early February, 2010. (Editor’s note: the election is set for January 19, 2010.) Obviously the long lag time was enacted to give candidates some time to ramp up a statewide campaign and allow voters to better know who their choices are for Senate representation.
Ironically, in 2006 Republicans introduced a bill to allow the Governor to appoint a replacement similar to that proposed by Kennedy but it was shot down on a largely party-line vote by the heavily Democratic Massachusetts House. Republicans are clearly correct in calling the Democrats hypocrites in wishing to change the law now, under these circumstances.
But it’s well known that Democrats have a lingering distrust in electoral results, even when the deck is as stacked in their favor as it is in Massachusetts. One candidate already being mentioned as a possible Republican aspirant is former Governor Romney, who could use the Senate seat to assure himself a place on the national stage for another Presidential run. Giving a Democrat appointee nearly six months to build a resume and war chest would obviously put most other Republican candidates at a disadvantage and give the Democratic machine which controls Bay State politics a chance to ramp up its attack campaign against whoever the GOP would place in contention.
With so many legislative achievements – good and bad – where Senator Kennedy was instrumental, perhaps it’s a fitting epitaph to find Ted Kennedy placed party above public to the end and engaged in one final cynical ploy before he left this world.
Michael Swartz is a Liberty Features Syndicated Writer.