Interim Senator?

In a letter to Governor Patrick and Legislative leaders, Senator Kennedy urged the legislature to revisit the process under which the state would appoint a replacement should a Senator leave office prior to the completion of their term.  The Senator, seeking to avoid a situation where Massachusetts would be left short a Senator for the 145 to 160 day period during which a special election would be contested, suggests that during that period, the Governor would appoint an interim Senator who would serve until a replacement was elected.  The Senator also suggested that any interim Senator commit not to seek the seat in the special election, presumably to avoid a situation where the Governor could bestow de-facto incumbent status on a candidate, as well as to ensure that the interim Senator would be actively serving the interests of the Commonwealth in Washington, not running for election.

While both of those are admirable goals, I am concerned by two parts of the Senator’s suggestion:

First, the entire purpose of having an interim Senator would be to ensure the Commonwealth was properly represented in the Senate.  However, if such an interim appointee were to be restricted (either by law or by a personal commitment) from seeking the seat, the voters would lack any real control over their actions.  The ballot box remains the lone fundamental control that the people have over elected representatives, and such an executive appointment would be immune not only from the prospect of being voted out of office, but subject to no popular or legislative approval.

Secondly, the concept of an interim Senator serving effectively for a term of 145 to 160 days runs counter to common sense.  How effective can Bay Staters expect a short-term freshman Senator to be as an advocate for the Commonwealth?  At best we could hope for a seat-filler to vote as ordered by party leadership.  I, for one, fail to see how this marks an improvement over a vacant seat.

Will, what are your thoughts on the matter?  Do you expect the legislature to take up Senator Kennedy’s request?

2 replies on “Interim Senator?”

  1. You make some good points. See my recent post on this subject. As to when the legislature will take it up, my guess is that the legislature will move cautiously on the proposal, given the many practical uncertainties around it.

  2. You’ve convinced me that it’s bad to prevent the interim appointee from running again. If the appointee makes bad moves, another candidate can achieve more votes in an election. If the appointee makes good moves, voters should have the chance to keep him/her in office.

    I think an interim Senator who couldn’t run would be better than a vacant seat. NH gets two votes and they have 1/5 the population that Mass has, so we should always get our full representation in the Senate.

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