Massachusetts political leaders moved Tuesday toward changing the state's Senate succession law so the governor has free reign to temporarily fill vacancies like the one created last month with the death of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy.
Attorney General Martha Coakley, the most prominent Democrat to declare candidacy for his seat, said she supports the idea after previously dodging questions on the topic. The switch is noteworthy because her campaign's finance chairman is Senate President Therese Murray, who has hedged on the change but holds sway over her fellow Democrats in the Legislature's upper chamber.
Kennedy requested the change in letters to Murray, Gov. Deval Patrick and House Speaker Robert DeLeo shortly before he died of brain cancer on Aug. 25.
"I let them know my feeling that I thought that it did not affect the special election, which was one of the issues everybody might have been concerned about," Coakley said.
Meanwhile, the Joint Committee on Election Laws began polling members of the House to determine if they would support letting the governor fill a seat while the state holds the five-month special election campaign already prescribed by law, and already under way to fill Kennedy's office.
"I think there are reasons for having two senators in the interim," Coakley said. "We've heard all the great stories about all the constituent work that Sen. Kennedy did. He has a huge case file. His office will be closed down (otherwise)."
A proposal that could be voted on Thursday would require that the appointee be from the same political party as the person whose departure created the vacancy, a Democrat like Kennedy in the current case. Yet it would not require that the appointee be blocked from running in the special election.
Some members had suggested forcing the governor to make the appointment after the special election filing deadline had passed. Such a ban could have been considered unconstitutional, so members are discussing an alternative: voting on resolutions making clear they don't want the governor to pick someone who would also be a special election candidate.
"Sense of the chamber" resolutions could clarify legislative intent if someone ever reneged on a pledge not to run and his opponents challenged the change in court.
The deadline for members to informally declare whether they support such a law was 11 p.m. Wednesday.
The action unfolded amid the latest surprise in the race: Rep. Stephen Lynch announced he would not be a candidate. A week ago, the South Boston Democrat said he would "likely" announce his candidacy this week, and he had announcement stops on Boston, Worcester and Springfield tentatively scheduled for Wednesday.
Yet in a statement, he said: "The challenge of putting together the resources and organization necessary to wage a competitive statewide campaign in less than 90 days is insurmountable."
Lynch is a former ironworker who said he planned to campaign on his blue-collar roots, including twice being laid off in the career. But his relatively conservative credentials, including his opposition to abortion rights and the so-called "public option" President Barack Obama wants in his health care overhaul, cost him some labor support.
Last week, Coakley and two other prospective Senate candidates were allowed to address the Greater Boston Labor Council breakfast. Lynch sat quietly in the back of the room. Since then, Coakley has garnered several labor endorsements.
The decision leaves Rep. Michael Capuano as the only Massachusetts congressman planning to run for the seat. He is planning to announce later this week.
Reps. Edward Markey and John Tierney considered but decided against campaigns for the Democratic nomination, as did former Reps. Joseph P. Kennedy II and Martin Meehan. Boston Celtics co-owner Stephen Pagliuca is also weighing a race.
State Sen. Scott Brown and Canton Selectman Bob Burr are seeking the Republican nomination.
Former Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling has said he is considering a race. He is a registered independent.
The primary is Dec. 8. The special election is Jan. 19.
This program aired on September 15, 2009. The audio for this program is not available.