AT a time when Massachusetts lawmakers are attempting to craft a balanced state budget and come to grips with a range of other challenges, nearly 72,000 state residents are without a voice in the House of Representatives. It has been that way since January when veteran Democrats Thomas Brownell of Quincy and Michael McGlynn of Medford quit their seats to pursue new careers. These seats will remain unfilled for the rest of the year. House Speaker George Keverian (D) of Everett has decided that if there is less than a year remaining in a term, a special election is not worthwhile.
Some may question that position. But the state constitution does not require that a vacant seat be filled. The decision is left to the leaders of the chamber involved.
Special elections have been called. In early 1970, for example, there were four House seats so filled between January and April.
Had Speaker Keverian moved expeditiously to provide for special elections in the Second Norfolk and 37th Middlesex Districts, successors for Mr. Brownell and Mr. McGlynn could have taken their seats by early April, in time to vote on most of key proposals this year.
Obviously no arrangements can be made for replacing anyone until he or she has left. But in the case of Brownell and McGlynn, a schedule could have been worked out last fall, since there was little doubt both would resign after the end of the 1987 legislative sitting.
Brownell had represented much of Quincy for 17 years. He vacated his seat to become a Plymouth District Court judge. McGlynn, whose district embraced parts of Malden and Medford, was in the House for 11 years. He was elected mayor of Medford last November. In his mayoral campaign he made it clear that if elected he would not stay in the legislature, and not hold down two offices as some lawmakers have done.
As it has turned out, however, it might have been better had McGlynn stayed on in the legislature until term's end. His district would at least have had part-time representation this year, instead of none. Brownell, too, might have been well advised to stay till the end of the session, and then put on his judicial robes.
Not holding special elections may save a few thousand dollars, but that hardly justifies depriving some 72,000 Bay Staters of representation for nearly a year.
Perhaps shading the Keverian decision was the possibility that the current legislative sitting will be over by late summer. But sessions in recent years have stretched from January to January.
Those supporting the House inaction hold that it might be a waste of time for the winners, since redistricting will take place at year's end. But that doesn't justify leaving a single Bay Stater without representation.
What may be needed is a state constitutional requirement for the automatic calling of a special election whenever a legislator vacancy occurs. Perhaps the chair could be filled on an interim basis by a resident of the district involved chosen by the state committee of the former lawmaker's political party. Such a sit-in would serve only until the special election.