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As Senate Race Takes Off, Debate Over Interim Successor Moves Along03:25
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Sen. John Kerry presses lawmakers to allow Gov. Deval Patrick to name an interim replacement to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy during a public hearing before the Joint Committee on Election Laws on Wednesday. (AP)
Sen. John Kerry presses lawmakers to allow Gov. Deval Patrick to name an interim replacement to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy during a public hearing before the Joint Committee on Election Laws on Wednesday. (AP)

Leaders on Beacon Hill expect that it will take a few days before they move on legislation that would grant one of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy’s last wishes: that Gov. Deval Patrick be allowed to appoint an interim successor until a special election in January.

In a packed auditorium at the State House on Wednesday, the Legislature’s Election Laws Committee heard from advocates on both sides, including Sen. John Kerry.

Back in 2004, the Democratic Legislature stripped a Republican governor of the power to appoint a senator. Now that some Democrats would like to give a Democratic governor that power back, Republicans are relishing the moment.

State Sen. Scott Brown, a Republican from Wrentham who is considering a run for Kennedy’s seat, asked Sen. John Kerry why the law should be changed now. "In 2004, senator, the late senator also used his influence to help change the law back then," Brown said. "That’s what people are wrestling with right now."

"By writing the letter that he wrote and putting himself on the line, I think he acknowledged that that was a mistake," Kerry replied.

Republicans and Democrats on Beacon Hill say they are hearing from their constituents that changing the law again would be a mistake.

"Many people in Massachusetts are a little bit tired of what they see on Beacon Hill," said Sen. John Hart, a Democrat from South Boston. "What they see from the Legislature, who is not held necessarily in the highest regard."

But some members of the House are hearing public sentiment change.

"My calls were, I’d say, 50-50, maybe even 60-40, in favor," said Rep. Michael Moran of Brighton, the House chairman of the Election Laws Committee. "In the beginning, it was a lot more against than for, but it seemed like once the funeral and the ceremony had passed, and Labor Day had passed, and this week, especially, there’s certainly an uptick in the pro side of this issue."

Rep. Moran said people are concerned about the fact that Sen. Kennedy’s staff has been ordered to close the office and can no longer help constituents. Others want the state to have two votes on a wide range of issues, from health care to making sure Sen. Kerry has help in steering money to Massachusetts.

Moran says that on the Election Laws Committee more members are in favor of changing the law than are against, but many members, including himself, are still undecided.

"My main question, for me," Moran said, "and I really believe, in talking to members, this is is the crux why they will or won’t support this, is to make sure that we can fairly say, or say with certainty, that the person who is the interim cannot run for the seat."

Gov. Patrick has said that his legal staff has advised him that the Legislature cannot prohibit an appointed senator from running in January’s election. But committee chairman Moran disagreed. He said as far as he can tell, the Legislature has the legal right to forbid the appointee from running in January.

That’s what Arkansas did. Its constitution says that an appointed senator cannot succeed himself, and the U.S. Supreme Court has never struck that law down.

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This program aired on September 10, 2009.

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