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In Their Own Words: Why Mass. Democrats Rejected Interim Senate Appointments in 2004

8:15 PM, Aug 28, 2009 • By JOHN MCCORMACK
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In 2004, the Massachusetts legislature passed a law to fill Senate vacancies through special election rather than gubernatorial appointment in order to prevent Mitt Romney from picking John Kerry's successor should Kerry have won the presidential election. Now Massachusetts Democrats are working to change the law again and allow Democratic governor Deval Patrick to appoint an interim replacement to fill Ted Kennedy's seat.

When Massachusetts Democrats passed the 2004 law, they were fully aware that a vacant Senate seat would remain unfilled for five months until a special election was held. On June 30, 2004 a Republican-sponsored amendment that would have allowed interim gubernatorial appointments was defeated 104 to 44. (See the roll call here.) House Speaker DeLeo, who now supports allowing Gov. Patrick to appoint a senator to serve until the January special election, was among those who voted against interim appointments in 2004.

Democrats argued in 2004 that interim appointments would corrupt the democratic process. According to StateHouseNews.com's rough transcript of the floor debate,

[Democratic] Rep. [Bill] Straus said he hopes the amendment is rejected. The argument I make on this is in two respects. In terms of the integrity of the conduct of the special election itself, it requires that the voters be the one, unaided by outside influences, who they want to represent them. What happens otherwise with a temporary appointment is the person chosen for largely political reasons by any governor of any party, that person would be invested with a leg up. If you will, the governor would have put his thumb on the scale.

Democratic Rep. Robert Koczera, the sponsor of the current measure to allow interim appointments, opposed the amendment in 2004, saying:

Any vacancy in the US House was filled by a special election over the past 215 years. Why should we treat vacancies in the Senate any differently? Any interim appointment skewers the process by giving that person an advantage. The equity principle is at play with respect to both houses of Congress. They are co-equal.

Democratic Rep. Kathi-Ann agreed that the governor "should not create an incumbent and we should let the people have that choice."

As the Boston Globe editorialized today, "Some state lawmakers fear they will look like hypocrites if they change the law to allow for such an [interim] appointment. In fact, they will."