When a political party stacks the deck in their favor, the cards they are dealt sometimes fall the wrong way. Such is the case of Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass) who has sent a letter to Massachusetts elected leaders seeking a change in the 2004 state succession law and allow his Senate seat to be filled rapidly.
Kennedy, who liberals love and is affectionately called the Lion of the Senate, is suffering from brain cancer and has missed most of this year's Senate sessions. The 2004 law was enacted for fear then Gov. Mitt Romney would appoint a Republican if Massachusetts Democratic Sen. John Kerry won that year's presidential election. The new law required a special election called within 145 days of the vacancy.
"I strongly support that law and the principle that the people should elect their senator," Kennedy wrote in the letter, dated July 2 but only sent to state officials this week. "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 during the approximately five months between a vacancy and an election."
Kennedy, a champion of universal health care, suggested an interim replacement be named by the governor or state legislature on condition the person is not a candidate for the vacant seat in the special election.
Timing of Kennedy's letter does not reflect a worsening of his terminal brain cancer, his aids say. But it does reflect Kennedy's concerns for passage of a landmark health reform bill the Senate is expected to vote on this fall. The Senate has 60 elected Democrats which would assure passage if all were unanimous in their voting. However, Kennedy and Sen. Harry Byrd (D-West Virginia) have been chronically absent because of ill health. Democratic leaders fear the 40 Senate Republicans will vote a straight party line against any health reform legislation.
It seems to me Kennedy is asking his state to send a ringer to the Senate to be his stand-in surrogate vote. That's okay because most voters in Massachusetts would probably concur based on that state's track record.
But it sure smacks the democratic process with a black eye. It feels dirty. The person who is appointed as a lame duck would be a dupe for the Kennedy dynasty. Besides, during that 145-day interim the appointee would be voting on other critical legislation such as climate change. The appointee in effect would be doing what he is told by party leaders.
Just because Kennedy has served in the Senate for nearly a half century does not make him a god or kingmaker. But, don't blame good, old lovable Teddy.
Blame his state's Democratic leaders who changed the rules in their infinite wisdom to stick it to a rare Republican governor in that New England commonwealth. They changed the rules. Let them live by them.
Minnesota survived with only one senator for seven months.
(Author's Note: I was unable to find senate succession laws for West Virginia in the event Sen. Byrd dies in office. Sorry, mountaineers.