Deciding to vote for an interim Senator

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,, 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.

Published by Will Brownsberger

Will Brownsberger is State Senator from the Second Suffolk and Middlesex District.

14 replies on “Deciding to vote for an interim Senator”

  1. Thank you, Will. I think, on balance, though not a perfect bill, this is a good one, and I’m glad you voted for it!

  2. Thank you for your vote, Rep. Brownsberger. That extra vote will definitely count and give Sen. Kerry less burden since he’s probably overwhelmed with the entire state now contacting his office as the stand-alone Senator for this state.

  3. Thanks Will, I know you put a great deal of thought into both sides of the issue and I’m glad we’ll have another vote in DC.


  4. Will, I appreciate your transparency in decision making and your effort to hear our voices but I am disappointed at your vote, and even moreso at your sentiment that the President’s will should be more important than mine or your other constituents. Actually from what I read most of my neighbors support your vote, so it may have been the best choice in this case…despite what I want. But I absolutely feel you can (and should) second guess the President, and that you don’t feel prepared to concerns me.

    1. I know what you mean. In truth, I spent a lot of time second-guessing the President, considering the issue in depth, but ultimately felt that I should defer on this issue — he certainly has vastly better information about what is happening in the U.S. Senate than I do!

  5. Now that this unnecessary borderline sleazy bill is out of the way … How about getting the Education Funding formula changed to prevent Towns with minimal Commercial tax revenue and significant Multi-Family Homes from being penalized because of SFH values… That’s change I can believe in and support. It’s obvious now if the Legislators want something done they can do it quickly. Hope you embrace this opportunity soon.

  6. Will thanks for your vote. I agree with you but mostly for different reasons. I think this is best not because it is partisan but because it corrects what was indeed a partisan vote, but was a mistake and created bad law.

    I do also agree that we need the vote in DC.

    However, I strongly disagree that “essential constituent services could surely be maintained by Senator Kerry and our ten Congressmen”. Senator Kennedy’s staff had unmatched expertise and connections that others do not have, and on many issues — the one that I know of best is immigration. Losing this as Senate rules require when there is no replacement is a huge loss not easily repaired by other offices, as good as they may be; my understanding is that with a replacement, Kennedy’s staff can continue. Also if issues are farmed out to other offices the expertise can then be in the wrong place — for example I believe Rep. Delahunt’s staff also has notable expertise on immigration, but he is only the rep for his district, and those for other districts have their focus elsehwere. Etc.


    Tom R

  7. Hi Will. This was an awful vote to have to take and I know you dug deep on this and respect the very thorough process you went through to come to a conclusion. In my mind your choice reflects what in the end will best serve the citizens of the Commonwealth. While there may be some political collateral damage here in Massachusetts, I like to think the issues rather than politics won in the end.

  8. Will, Thanks for your open and honest assessment of the issue as you see it. I think your candidness is especially refreshing given the media’s and the Democratic Party’s insistence the objections to how are “our” government is being run are coming exclusively from right wing zealots. I continue to be unaffiliated with either party and I am among the legions of people voicing “our” distaste for the type politics on display in the Commonwealth. Thanks for recognizing your vote for the blatant power grab it is. See you at the polling booth. Regards, Spencer

  9. Hi, Will.

    I opposed the change but I very much appreciate your clear willingness to weigh both sides of the issue. I did not envy your having to make the decision.

    I understand your decision. What I don’t understand is taking out the language that required the Governor to appoint a senator of the same party of the senator who left. Would that not have been the best way to have the voters represented in the way they voted? What am I missing?


    1. Both of our parties are so diverse that choosing a person of the same party really doesn’t guaranty much and also makes many qualified unenrolled persons ineligible.

      Many of us also felt that tying the hands of the Governor to appoint a person of a particular party belied the argument made by many that the state needed representation of its own interests.

Comments are closed.