Replacing Ted Kennedy

When Senator Edward Kennedy died, leaving Massachusetts’ congressional delegation one member short, the Democratic governor of the state was eager to appoint his replacement.  There was only one problem: only five years earlier, the Democrat-controlled state legislature had specifically changed the law to remove that authority from the governor in favor of requiring a replacement to be selected by a special election.  And why had they made that change?  Because, at the time, then Senator John Kerry was running for the Presidency; and, if he had won that office, it would have fallen to the then Republican governor, Mitt Romney, to appoint his replacement.

But when Kennedy’s seat came open, the country was in the midst of the fight over “Obamacare” and in a strange political mood.  The Massachusetts political establishment feared that an election might not go their way and wanted to restore the authority of the governor to appoint a successor.  Their attempt to restore the law to its original form failed and their fears proved to be well-founded: in the wake of the special election, Scott Brown — a Republican — was sworn in as the junior Senator from Massachusetts.

At the time all this was going on, I wrote this letter to The Boston Globe to point how how stupid the whole thing was making everyone associated with it look.  It wasn’t published.  For those who have forgotten, Rod Blagojvich was the governor of Illinois who went to federal prison after being convicted of trying to sell Senator-become-President Barack Obama’s vacated seat to the highest bidder…

27 August 2009

So, the Democrats — both at home and in Washington — want the Massachusetts state legislature to change the law (again) on senatorial succession, allowing the Democratic governor to choose Senator Kennedy’s replacement rather than deferring to the electorate.

Set aside, for a moment, the appearance (and reality) of pettiness and cynicism such a move implies — it was, after all, not that long ago that the governor had that authority, until the Democratic legislature became alarmed that its exercise might fall to a Republican governor.  Even if a change now is justified, it will make them look self-serving.

But, beyond that, are we forgetting it was less than a year ago that Rod Blagojevich exposed, in dramatic fashion, the potential for corruption and abuse in such authority?  Are we forgetting that, back then, the entire Democratic establishment, all across the country, was lining up in principled opposition to such prerogative?  Are we forgetting that they were united in their fervor for democracy, united in their demand that all states adopt elections over appointments as the only ethical way?

It would seem we are, once again, witnessing the spectacle of politicians choosing specific and short-term political advantage over a systemic and long-term public good.

© Copyright 2009, Augustus P. Lowell

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