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After Ted

Kennedy’s death came amid renewed speculation about his succession, his family, and potential candidates for his job
By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  August 26, 2009

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The death of Senator Edward M. Kennedy early Wednesday morning brings to a close the life and legendary career of one of Massachusetts's greatest political figures. It also hastens the issue of succession to the seat he has held since he was elected in 1962, a topic that has gripped the state's political class since Kennedy's brain tumor was discovered more than a year ago.

That interest is more than understandable. It's been a quarter-century since John Kerry won the state's last open US Senate seat in 1984. Coupled with our local fascination with all things Kennedy, it's no surprise that Kennedy's plan for Senate succession — suggested by him in a quickly leaked letter to state leaders Governor Deval Patrick, Senate President Therese Murray, and House Speaker Robert DeLeo last week— has been the talk of the town.

If enacted, his plan would allow the governor to name a temporary replacement for a Senate vacancy, preferably one pledging to serve only for the five months until a special election for a longer-term replacement would be held.

In the strictest sense, the idea seems straightforward and uncontroversial. Current state law calls for a Senate vacancy to be filled by special election, but leaves the seat empty and the state underrepresented for five months. The change Kennedy recommended would provide a Bay State voice in the Senate for the interim, without affecting the special election. More poignantly, it would also ensure a 60th Democratic vote on the Senate floor, which is crucial for the passage of the health-care-reform legislation that was close to Kennedy's heart and supported by most of Beacon Hill.

And yet not everyone is on board. Some have voiced concern that Kennedy was trying to maneuver a hand-picked replacement into position — possibly even a family member. Others are concerned that Kennedy's proposal, even in light of his death, will be politically dangerous since it smacks — intentionally or not — of personal politics and interference.

Those latter concerns are certainly understandable.

For starters, politics was entirely behind the law being written as it now stands. Until 2004, the governor was empowered to choose a replacement to serve until the next federal election. But when Kerry was thought to be on his way to the White House, Beacon Hill Democrats yanked that power from Republican governor Mitt Romney.

Republicans at the time proposed the exact same temporary five-month appointment that Kennedy's plan calls for, to no avail. Those Republicans are now pounding Democrats for alleged hypocrisy should they adopt the change five years later. Opposition is therefore a pretty easy political calculation for the GOP — even though technically they are just as hypocritical for opposing it.

National Democrats eager to maintain their 60-vote supermajority would love to see the state adopt Kennedy's proposal. And at least according to initial polling, a slim majority of Bay Staters agree. But Beacon Hill Democrats who make the laws find themselves in a difficult position. They've been desperately trying to quell voter concerns that they run a rigged, patronage-laden, behind-closed-doors government. Changing the law for choosing a senator, for the second time in recent memory, and for obviously partisan political reasons, wouldn't exactly look like change and reform.

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Related: Giant shadow, Senate shuffle, Choosing Kennedy’s successor, More more >
  Topics: Talking Politics , Deval Patrick, Mitt Romney, Martha Coakley,  More more >
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1 Comments / Add Comment

JoeBeckmann

It's remarkable that no one - not the Phoenix, the Globe, the Herald, the Times, nor any of the TV stations, nor even the blogs - have made the connection between Ted's successor and the self-interest of Republican health insurers. It is hardly a subtle connection to link Charlie Baker, the leading Republican Gubernatorial candidate and former President of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, the state's largest private insurer, with a delay in filling our second seat, and the decisive 60th seat against a Republican filibuster. Baker & company stand to make millions by further delay in health insurance reform. And their simplest strategy is to blame Democratic self interest in changing the law of succession! This should not be surprising, given that none of the media seems to have connected Charlie Baker's job and the most contested political reform in a generation. Closing off thousands of high risk/high cost Harvard Vanguard subscribers "saved the company," but at the expense of all the taxpayers in this, the first state with universal health care. Yet to ignore the new connection between the Baker boondoggle and this modest proposal to give us an interim Senate vote, enough to quash another Republican scam and stifle another Republican's personal boondoggle is a new low in regional journalism.
Posted: August 26 2009 at 3:36 PM
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ARTICLES BY DAVID S. BERNSTEIN
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