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The possibility Sen. John Kerry might take an appointment in the Obama administration has touched off discussion about who would run to replace him, but Gov. Deval Patrick interrupted it Wednesday by saying he would consider a change in state law to appoint a successor rather than fill the seat through a special election.
Massachusetts governors used to appoint a replacement senator, but legislative Democrats changed the law in 2004 after they feared then-Gov. Mitt Romney would name a fellow Republican if Kerry had succeeded in his bid for the presidency. They said a public election was a more democratic process.
Speaking with reporters after returning from President-elect Barack Obama's victory party in Chicago, Patrick would not rule out reverting the law to its previous form. He is the state's first Democratic governor in 16 years, putting him in harmony with the overwhelming Democratic majorities in the House and Senate.
The state's two U.S. senators and 10 House members - many of whom would be likely Senate candidates - are also Democrats.
"There are opinions on both sides of that question," Patrick said, going on to note that 45 or more states have laws giving the governor the appointment power.
"I imagine in all those 45, -6, or -7 cases, you make lots of enemies and have one ingrate. Are you asking me if I want additional headaches? No, not necessarily," he added.
As whether he favored a public vote or gubernatorial appointment, Patrick said, "I haven't really come to rest on a view. ... I got a lot of other important and difficult decisions to make; I'm not looking to grab additional ones. If I have that authority, I will exercise it as wisely as I can, but if you're asking me whether I'm pushing to make such a change, no, I am not."
David Guarino, a spokesman for House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi, said, "The speaker believes it is premature to be discussing any potential vacancy."
Senate President Therese Murray said a flat 'No' when asked whether she would consider changing the law, a spokesman said.
While Kerry's comments have renewed the discussion, the case of the state's other senator - Edward Kennedy - that has given the succession issue currency as well.
Kennedy was diagnosed in May with brain cancer, and while he has vowed to return to the Senate in January, his illness has led to questions about who would succeed him were he unable to serve until his term expires in 2012.
Among the possibilities are his wife, Vicki, and his nephew, former Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy II, but either would have to compete in a special election under the terms of the current law. The law also poses a risk for the Senate Democrats' re-election committee in Washington, which could pressure Patrick to seek reinstatement of the appointment law to ensure their party retains any vacant seat.
Meanwhile, the chance Kerry might be named secretary of state, secretary of defense, U.N. ambassador or to some other ambassadorial posting fueled a Beacon Hill parlor game about possible replacements.
Kerry touched it off when, just moments after winning a new six-year term on Tuesday, he said he would be willing to discuss a job with Obama. He did so even though he is on the cusp of becoming chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee - one of the most powerful panels on Capitol Hill.
The current chairman, Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware, was Obama's running mate and will become vice president in January. The No. 2 Democrat on the panel, Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut, already serves as chairman of the Senate Banking Committee and, under the chamber's rules, cannot be chairman of a second committee.
"What I've been clear about is that I'm going to fight for Massachusetts," Kerry said Tuesday night. "Whatever I, you know, do, I will do with the interests of Massachusetts and our country in mind, but I will continue to serve as thoughtfully as I can."
Among the Democrats who might try to succeed him are Attorney General Martha Coakley, as well as Reps. Stephen Lynch, Michael Capuano, Edward Markey, James McGovern and William Delahunt. Former Rep. Martin Meehan, now chancellor of the University of Massachusetts at Lowell, has $4.8 million in his federal campaign account, the largest sum of any potential candidate. That would give him the advantage in any special election sprint.
Under the current law, the governor must call an election within 145 to 160 days of receiving a resignation letter. A primary would be held five or six weeks beforehand, further reducing the time candidates would have to raise money for a campaign.
"I don't have a comment," Meehan said in an interview. "I'm working as hard as I can to make UMass-Lowell world-class."
Coakley noted she would have to begin fundraising anew, since the more than $600,000 in her state account could not be used for a federal race.
"It is so rare that a Senate seat opens, and if he vacates it, I would probably take a look at it," the attorney general said.
On the Republican side, potential candidates include Cape Cod businessman Jeff Beatty, whom Kerry beat Tuesday, as well as former Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey, U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan and Chris Egan, currently serving in Paris as U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Cooperation and Development.
Egan spokesman Rob Gray said, "When his term finishes in January, he plans to be active again in Massachusetts politics."
Romney and former Gov. Paul Cellucci ruled out campaigns, as did Harvard Pilgrim Health Care executive Charles Baker. Former acting Gov. Jane Swift said, "I certainly have enjoyed the (John McCain) campaign and talking about national education issues, but I also have a lot on my plate right now."
Former White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card, a longtime Holbrook resident, did not return an e-mail seeking comment.
This program aired on November 6, 2008. The audio for this program is not available.
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