Rep: Bill Would Allow Kennedy Seat Appointment, Without Influencing Election

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Massachusetts voters go to the polls on Jan. 19, 2010, to elect a successor to the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy. Would-be candidates are now on deadline to file paperwork by late October. Party primaries are scheduled for Dec. 8.

Meantime the Legislature has set a hearing for next week on a bill that would allow the governor to  appoint an interim senator before the election,  a plan that has sparked controversy.

The sponsor of the proposal, state Rep. Robert Koczera, a Democrat from New Bedford, joined us to discuss the bill.

Bob Oakes: There's a lot of controversy over whether or not the governor should get to appoint an interim U.S. senator as opposed to simply electing one in a few months. Make the case for why you think there should be an interim appointment.

Robert Koczera: Well, I believe there should be an interim appointment primarily because the length of time that it will take to conduct a special election, Massachusetts will be without their second vote in the United States Senate. So I think it's important that we be represented, especially with such an important issue as health care being taken up this fall.

I'm not against the special election, I think the special election is the route to go. In the vacant Senate seat, there is three years remaining to the term, so the people should decide who their representative is. I think what's important is that the people have an open choice and that they not be unduly influenced by the selection of an interim appointment, and I think that's part of the controversy in Massachusetts.

The bill that I have proposed clearly provides the governor with an interim appointment to the United States Senate, but only after the candidate-filing deadline has passed for the special election, and I think that makes a big difference from previous attempts to have an interim appointment for the governor.

But that filing deadline is something on the order of late October to early November, according to various dates. Which means that, under the plan as it's laid out now, the interim senator would only be in office from maybe the beginning of November to mid-January, when the special election is held.

There's no guarantee on Capitol Hill that the important vote on health care is going to be taken in that time frame, so why bother?

I think it's important because we're crafting a bill not only for this vacancy, but for any future vacancies, and during that period of time — be it two months or longer — something of importance may be coming up for a vote in the Senate.

I believe that the interim appointment, providing it's not someone who can run in the special election, does no harm and does provide the state with representation in the United States Senate at a time when there's a vacancy.

Go back five years to 2004, when Sen. John Kerry was the Democratic presidential candidate. The Legislature, mainly Democrats, stripped then Gov. Mitt Romney of the power to appoint an interim senator, because they feared the Republican governor would appoint a Republican senator.

Counter the criticism that the bill you've sponsored now is hypocritical.

The course of action that we took at that time was correct. Where we got a little hung up was in making an interim appointment and questioning the constitutionality of prohibiting an appointee from being a candidate in the special election. So, as a result, there was no support for an interim appointee.

I think what we're trying to be is fair and equitable; do what's in the public interest. Unfortunately, you can't craft a law that meets every contingency and, in this case, the deadline for filing for a special election is later in the process, but I still think having an appointee serve a period of time during this vacant period is preferable to letting the office go completely vacant.

I'm wondering if you can handicap this for us: What do you hear from your colleagues on Beacon Hill as to whether or not they support this? Do you think that this plan to appoint an interim senator will pass?

I do. I believe that so long as the interim senator will not be a candidate in the special election and therefore be perceived as having an advantage going into that special election, there will be support with my colleagues in the Legislature.

There have been various suggestions and proposals put forth, we'll have to see what the committee decides upon.

This program aired on September 1, 2009.

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Bob Oakes Senior Correspondent
Bob Oakes was a senior correspondent in the WBUR newsroom, a role he took on in 2021 after nearly three decades hosting WBUR's Morning Edition.



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