Democrats urge interim Kennedy replacement
A temporary replacement for Kennedy's Senate seat would let Democrats maintain their crucial 60 votes in the Senate. But state Republicans oppose the move.
Bizuayehu Tesfaye / AP
It was a full house. Citizens from across Massachusetts crowded a Statehouse auditorium Wednesday wearing buttons with the slogan, â€śDo it for Ted,â€ť and holding signs that read, â€śHonor the law, protect democracy.â€ť
Most prominent were the bold blue stickers: â€śWe need two Senators.â€ť
Sen. John Kerry (D) led state Democratsâ€™ demand Wednesday for an interim replacement to fill the late Edward Kennedyâ€™s Senate seat until a permanent one can be selected in a special election in January. At a public hearing held by the Massachusetts Joint Committee on Election Laws, Senator Kerry and Rep. Bill Delahunt (D) stressed that Massachusetts needs two Senators to best serve its citizens.
â€śOne vote can make all the difference,â€ť said Kerry, citing examples in the history of the Senate where legislation hinged on a single Senatorâ€™s vote. He added that pending healthcare, climate change, and financial reform legislation this fall will make it â€śthe busiest, most hotly contestedâ€ť schedule before the Senate in recent times.
An interim senator would preserve the Democratsâ€™ filibuster-proof 60-vote Senate majority.
The idea was first proposed by Kennedy himself in a letter to the governor and lawmakers before his death last month. But state Republicans accuse Democrats of being hypocritical â€“ it was a Democratic-controlled legislature that created the law in 2004 to prevent then Republican Gov. Mitt Romney from appointing a GOP replacement for Kerry if he won the presidential election and vacated his Senate seat.
At the public hearing Wednesday, state Rep. Paul Frost (R) hammered Democrats, asking whether theyâ€™d still support the amendment if Massachusetts had a Republican senator.
Representative Frost supported legislating for an interim replacement in 2004 â€“ which was brought to his attention at the hearing â€“ but he says that amending the law now would amount to â€śchanging the rules in the middle of the game.â€ť
Appointing an interim senator â€śis solely to benefit one party by carrying out its political agendaâ€ť she said in her statement to the Democrat-dominated committee. Only three of the committeeâ€™s 17 members are Republicans.
One state Republican lawmaker, Rep. Bradley Jones, said he would support the amendment if it took effect after Januaryâ€™s special election. â€śI will not support the change to the election law that effects this vacancy,â€ť he said in an interview before the hearing.
Democrats say the law change would simply be plugging a gap the legislature created with the move to special elections five years ago. Kerry went so far as to admit that Republicans were right when they proposed legislating a provision for an interim appointment in 2004.
â€śIt was a good half step,â€ť said Paul Bouchard, an international staff representative for Communication Workers of America (CWA), who came to the hearing with about 50 CWA members. â€śBut five months is too long to wait.â€ť
Gov. Deval Patrick (D), who was not in attendance at Wednesdayâ€™s hearing because he is recovering from hip replacement surgery, called the amendment a â€śmodest changeâ€ť in a press conference last week. He has said heâ€™ll sign the bill if it reaches his desk.