Move to Replace Kennedy Now Is Unfair

Washington Matters

Move to Replace Kennedy Now Is Unfair

Actions have consequences, and the Democrats who control the Massachusetts legislature should know that. What they're about to do is crass and unfair. In fact, it's outrageous, and more people should be speaking up.

I'm talking, of course, about the plan to change state law to let Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick appoint an interim replacement for the late Sen. Ted Kennedy. A special election is set for Jan. 19, but that will leave a five month gap, denying Democrats the all-important 60th vote in the Senate that they need to shut down filibusters. It could make the difference on health care and other controversial issues.

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Like other states, Massachusetts used to allow its governor to appoint someone to fill unexpected vacancies, but in 2004, when Sen. John Kerry was running for president, the overwhelmingly Democratic legislature decided to change the rules. Republican Mitt Romney was in the governor's chair, and if Kerry won, they didn't want Romney appointing a GOP replacement, so they changed the law to block gubernatorial appointments. Instead, vacancies were to be filled by a special election no earlier than five months after a vacancy occurs.

That was an irresponsible decision, one that guaranteed the people of Massachusetts would be inadequately represented for at least five months. As we saw when the Minnesota Senate race dragged on this year, a prolonged vacancy cheats the citizens of a state of the representation and important constituent service they need.


But it's totally unfair to change the law now just because it's in the Democrats' partisan interest to do so. What kind of a nation would we be if lawmakers were constantly changing the rules to suit their needs instead of keeping the public good in mind? Although the real mistake was made in 2004, and it should be fixed at some point, now is not the time to do it. It's just too blatantly political. I know there are plenty of times when lawmakers use their dominance to try to preserve it (the redistricting process is a good example), but those wrongs don't make it right in this instance. 

I know this is whistling in the wind. The overwhelming Democratic legislature is almost certain to change the law, and Patrickl is poised to appoint a caretaker who promises not to run in the special election. But the caretaker will be a safe Democratic vote in Washington. Many Massachusetts Republicans are rightly outraged. Democrats in the state ought to be, too.