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Gov. Deval Patrick named former Democratic Party chairman Paul G. Kirk Jr. on Thursday to temporarily fill the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy's seat, acknowledging the appointment was controversial but saying the issues before Congress were "too important to Massachusetts for us to be one voice short."
Kirk, a Kennedy family friend, served on Kennedy's staff for eight years and is chairman of the JFK Library Foundation. Kennedy's widow, Victoria Reggie Kennedy, and son Edward Kennedy Jr. had urged Patrick to pick Kirk and attended the announcement at the Massachusetts State House.
"He (Sen. Kennedy) often said that representing the people of Massachusetts in the Senate of the United States was the highest honor that he could possible imagine, and it is certainly nothing that I imagined, but it will be my highest honor, as well," Kirk said.
The appointment by Patrick will let Kirk serve in the post until voters pick a permanent replacement in a Jan. 19 special election. It also gives President Obama a critical 60th U.S. Senate vote he needs to pass his top legislative priority, a health care overhaul.
"He is intimately knowledgeable and supportive of the work that Sen. Kennedy was doing," said one of the aides, who, like the others, requested anonymity in advance of the official announcement. "He can start right away on that work. It's an opportunity in a short period of time to try to compete some of the work Sen. Kennedy has been working his whole life on."
The announcement comes after the Massachusetts Legislature on Wednesday gave final approval to a bill giving the governor the authority to make the appointment.
The House voted 95-59, and the Senate 24-16, just moments after a separate House vote in which lawmakers declined to make the law go into effect immediately.
Lawmakers had to strike some language from the bill pertaining to the effective date. The bill originally had language saying it would take effect as soon as the governor signed it, otherwise known as an emergency preamble.
But Republicans on Beacon Hill cited state law, saying an emergency preamble needed to be approved by two-thirds of both the House and Senate before taking effect.
While both branches voted to approve the bill by a simple majority, it did not pass by the two-thirds majority, raising questions about whether the preamble was valid and when the law would go into effect.
The question of an effective date may be moot, since the governor has the authority to unilaterally attach an emergency preamble, regardless of the Legislature's vote. It is expected that Gov. Patrick will attach the language, which comes in the form of a letter to the secretary of state, instructing him to implement the law immediately.
"This is set in law," said Secretary of State William Galvin. "We do this all the time, because as you can imagine, there are emergencies that take place in cities and towns, there are certain circumstances that require a law to go into effect immediately, so it's quite common."
Republicans, who had been using parliamentary rules to slow the legislation down, are questioning whether the need for an interim senator is an emergency, as well as the methods used to remove the language from the law.
"They had to pull a questionable legal maneuver out. I hope it gives rise to a legal challenge," said House Republican leader Bradley Jones, adding that he's consulting with the state's Republican party to determine if there are legal options available.
Supporters of the interim appointment law in the Legislature expressed relief the bill has finally passed.
"I think the debate over the past two days has made it clear that we need two senators in the U.S. Senate," said Massachusetts Senate President Therese Murray. "We have a lot of businesses that are backed up with grant requests and requests for stimulus money that is in Sen. Kennedy's office.
"With the governor appointing someone those things can move forward," Murray said, "because staff can't move them — you need a senator."
This program aired on September 23, 2009. The audio for this program is not available.
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