Friday, September 18, 2009

The Massachusetts Legislature 

The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts passed a bill last night that would empower Governor Patrick to appoint an interim U.S. Senator to fill the late Ted Kennedy's seat. Current Massachusetts law provides for a special election to be held more than 4 months after the seat is vacated, and that law (taking away the power of the Governor to make an interim appointment) was passed in 2004 when it seemed likely that Senator Kerry's seat might come open if he won the White House, and Republican Governor Mitt Romney could then possibly nominate a fellow Republican as interim Senator.

The bill will now go to the MA Senate, where at the very least it will be postponed for a week. From the standpoint of Democrats supporting the bill, Ted Kennedy's seat needs to be filled quickly so that votes can be cast in the U.S. Senate this year.

While I think that it should be completely up to the several States as to how each deals with the matter of interim representation in Washington, this five year flip-flop is so brazenly rife with political expediency that it tells everyone in the Commonwealth and in the country that a political organization in control will change the rules in mid-stream to suit its needs of the moment. That does nothing but add to the overall level of cynicism that most people have towards politics, and has an overall coarsening effect. Even Massachusetts Democrats are somewhat at odds about it:
"Rep. Michael Moran, House chairman of the Committee on Election Laws, said lawmakers shouldn't be handcuffed by past votes if they are not in the best interest of the state.

"'I ask you to focus on the needs of Massachusetts not in 2004, but in 2009,' the Boston Democrat said.

Other Democratic lawmakers conceded a political motive in the vote, saying they wanted to protect Kennedy's legacy, including his signature issue of expanded health care.

"'Some people say it's political. Of course it's political', said Rep. Cory Atkins, a Concord Democrat and Kennedy supporter."
(emphasis added)

It prompts me to nominate the Massachusetts Legislature for the First Annual Bob "Torch" Torricelli Political Fast One Award, named for the former U.S. Senator (D-NJ) who, in 2000, following a campaign finance scandal, understood that he was far down in the polls against his opponent, and dropped out of the race quite late to let Frank Lautenberg run in his place, even though the statutory filing deadline for ballot changes had long since passed. The change was upheld by the NJ Supreme Court.

Without in any way wanting to disrespect the memory of the late Senator Kennedy, he could have avoided this entire scenario simply by stepping down sometime after President Obama's inauguration, and by now, there would be a sitting Senator. I say this as someone who lost his mother 19 years ago next month to the identical type of brain tumor (glioma) in a nearly identical spot (left frontal lobe vs. left parietal lobe, I believe, in the Senator's case), so I know very well from first-hand observation how profound the effects are of such an illness. There would have been no shame in resigning.


By Blogger randian, at Fri Sep 18, 12:44:00 PM:

If statutory filing deadlines don't mean anything, so long as a Democrat benefits from ignoring it, why should a special election process mean anything?

It would be interesting if a Republican were to try the filing deadline stunt, basically daring the Democrat to file a legal objection based on the filing deadline. The contortions the courts would go through would be amusing to behold.  

By Anonymous Boludo Tejano, at Fri Sep 18, 01:53:00 PM:

Would this not be a case of ex-post facto? Ted died when the general election clause was in place, so as I see it, that is what should be done.

I would like to see a challenge to this, either in the courts or by having a Republican file.

Massachusetts, where the Big Dig has tiles fall off it shortly after construction is finished.

Methinks Sam Adams, John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne et al would be greatly dismayed to observe the current state of their state.

By comparison with the current set of clowns running Massachusetts, even Mayor James Curley seems clean. And he went straight from prison to the mayor's office.  

By Anonymous hjw@pacbell.net, at Fri Sep 18, 03:53:00 PM:

For some reason Democrats don't seem to think there is anything wrong in having a greed for power.

Someone who wants to keep what they earned, well, they have a huge problem with that.  

By Blogger GreenmanTim, at Fri Sep 18, 04:00:00 PM:

I understand that the bill as written limits interim appointments to the same party as the prior occupant of the vacancy. What, then, would be the incentive of a governor from a different party filling the seat before the special election? And who, aside from a candidate, would want a 4 month appointment or be in a position to accept it? Heck, Minnesota got by with only one horse for 8 months.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Fri Sep 18, 07:34:00 PM:

Greenman: I suspect plenty of people would welcome a four month appointment.

Ego may be concealed well but it matters. And an appointment means you will be "Senator" all your life in some circles and to the media.

Sort of like being an Ambassador no matter how unimportant or short the job is.

The ultimate, of course, is to be King for a Day. Or longer if you can.

And even four months gives you a some chance in an election. You had little or none before.

The change seemed certain. The state doesn't actually need a Senator for four months. But Reid wants that vote for ObamaCare.

K Two  

By Blogger Noumenon, at Fri Sep 18, 09:16:00 PM:

That's an excellent point about how Kennedy could have prevented this by retiring.  

By Blogger Dawnfire82, at Fri Sep 18, 11:34:00 PM:

Unfortunately, that would have required humility and class.  

By Anonymous acucucuuc, at Sat Sep 19, 11:10:00 AM:

I am a sensible centrist and for the most part do not want to see our health care system go the way in which Kennedy wanted it to, but …

Kennedy did not know exactly when he would die. He might have lived to see a major health care bill enacted. He may have thought (as many others seem to) that his presence in the senate was important with respect to the views of his side being represented in that bill. So his staying in the senate could, if we were inclined to be charitable about it, be viewed in a less selfish light.  

By Blogger Assistant Village Idiot, at Sun Sep 20, 09:58:00 PM:

yes, Teddy could have had that more-acceptable motive acu.......

I am more concerned with what possible good motive the MA legislature could have for this arrogance. At the moment it looks like "because we can."  

By Anonymous Rob in Mass., at Mon Sep 21, 11:46:00 AM:

I would like to put forward a modest proposal. One of the handful of Republicans in the Massachusetts Senate should propose legislation with the following two components:
1. If a Democrat is Governor, then the vacant Senate seat will be filled with an interim appointment; and,
2. If the Governor is not a Democrat then the seat will remain vacant until the special election.

This will achieve the same result as the pending legislation and prevent the future waste of valuable legislative time changing the rules to the Democrats' advantage each time this situation arises.

Might even draw some attention to the absurdity of this situation.  

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