This afternoon, the House of Representatives voted by 97 to 58 to authorize the Governor to appoint an interim senator pending the outcome of the special election in January.
After a lot of soul searching, I had committed to vote for the bill and did so. I want to thank the hundreds of people who in person, by phone, by e-mail or through my website, www.willbrownsberger.com, reached out to give me passionate input on both sides of this question.
It wasn’t an easy vote for me. I agree with the editorial board of the New York Times that “states should be moving away from gubernatorial appointment of senators, not toward it.” And I basically feel that no one should be permitted to speak for the people of Massachusetts in the United States Senate unless he or she has a had a conversation with the people through the traditional campaign process. Also, the process of a Gubernatorial appointment of a Senator, even for a brief election interim, is fraught with the potential for abuse. Finally, essential constituent services could surely be maintained by Senator Kerry and our ten Congressman.
Yet, I voted for the bill — because the President, through intermediaries, asked for it. He and the United States Senate leadership feel that this extra Democratic vote might make a difference in critical votes that will occur before our elected Senator is seated in January.
Although the rule change is lawful and certainly defensible on policy grounds, making the change just now is a partisan act. Every exercise of raw partisan power has negative repercussions that reverberate around the state and around the country and come back to us in ways that we sometimes cannot even recognize. I don’t like it, but there are times when winning is the right thing to do and apparently, the President feels that now is such a time. I’m not prepared to second guess him.
The United States Senate is a polarized place, and as on the Supreme Court, those in the center of the spectrum have a great deal of power. Centrist Democrats are talking roughly the same language as centrist Republicans and they are going to get to call the shots as to what gets into a health care reform bill.
The best information that I could gather about the politics of the Senate suggested to me that the inclusion of one more Democrat will make at best a marginal difference in the content of the final health care bill. Most likely, if we fail to get a bill, it will be because the compromises necessary to get the centrists on board — compromises which will need to be made even with one more Democratic vote — are unacceptable to the progressives.
But Washington Democrats who were in touch with me in support of the bill suggested that Senate Republicans, to the pure partisan end of embarrassing the President, might filibuster even a moderate and responsible health care bill.
I didn’t feel comfortable taking the chance that my decent reluctance to take a partisan vote in Massachusetts would contribute to an indecent partisan melt down in Washington.
We did vote by a margin of 89 to 68 to strip from the bill the language that would require the governor to appoint a senator of the same party of the senator who left. The bill we passed is simple and clean authorizes the governor to appoint a senator for the few months until the special election is complete.
Again, thanks to all who provided input for me.