As Kirk Heads To Washington, Republicans Head To Court

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The Massachusetts Republican Party goes to court Friday morning to stop Paul Kirk Jr. from becoming the next senator from Massachusetts. Republicans believe Gov. Deval Patrick, who appointed Kirk on Thursday, does not have the authority to appoint him until December.

Kirk plans to be sworn in by Vice President Joe Biden on Friday afternoon. He is to serve until voters pick a successor to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy in a special election in January. In a press conference at the State House with Gov. Patrick on Thursday, Kirk promised not to run.

Paul Kirk Jr., right, smiles as Mass. Gov. Deval Patrick announces Thursday that Kirk will temporarily fill the late Sen. Edward Kennedy's U.S. Senate seat. (AP)
Gov. Deval Patrick announced Thursday that Paul Kirk Jr., right, will temporarily fill the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy's U.S. Senate seat. Republicans are seeking to block the appointment. (AP)

"I hope to retain the talented, hard-working and most effective staff in Sen. Kennedy's office," Kirk said. "They deserve that reputation. They work harder than any staff I know of, and we have some 800 open cases to be quickly pursued and enacted after I take the oath of office."

If Kirk is allowed to take office, that staff can stop closing Kennedy's office and can resume its work on constituent cases and issues that Kennedy was working on, from health care reform to the curtailment of the state secrets privilege.

Sen. John Kerry, who was at the State House with Kirk on Thursday, praised Kirk's qualifications as a long-time Washington insider.

"He comes with a personal relationship with many of the people that we're going to have to count on for votes and to help us get votes," Kerry said.

Kirk first went to Washington in 1969 as an aide to the late Sen. Ted Kennedy. He later became chairman of the Democratic National Committee and was once a lobbyist for two pharmaceutical companies.

Ron Kaufman, the Republican national committeeman from Massachusetts, said Kirk is well regarded by people from both parties in Washington.

"Paul Kirk will be a respected pick down here. Folks on both sides of the aisle have always thought of Kirk as a thoughtful partisan, but good man," Kaufman said. "So from that perspective, I think he will be well received, but I think more importantly, to a lot of folks, especially Democrats, he certainly knows and is part of the Kennedy machinery and knows better than anybody else how Ted Kennedy thought on issues."

"He will actually be a player at the table for a freshman," Kaufman added, "which will be unusual, 'cause he'll carry the moral weight of a Kennedy name and legacy."

Kirk's family had a tradition of government service. His father was a justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.

Victoria Reggie Kennedy, the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy's widow, and his son, Ted Jr., listen during the Thursday news conference. (AP)
Victoria Reggie Kennedy, the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy's widow, and his son, Ted Jr., listen during the Thursday news conference. Both told Patrick of their desire for Kirk to serve as interim senator ahead of the governor's announcement. (AP)

Kirk was among those who ran Kennedy's campaign for president against Jimmy Carter in 1980.

Peter Meade met Kirk on Robert Kennedy's 1968 presidential campaign. They worked together again in 1980, when Meade ran the Kennedy campaign in Maine.

"Paul and the senator's brother-in-law, Steve Smith, were major leaders in the campaign," Meade recalled. "Paul was always the center of calm and wisdom and judgment, and also had great concern for people who were out working the field and making sure that people were doing OK and being treated well."

Kirk and Kennedy became friends, and he is now the executor of Kennedy's will.

Kennedy's son, Ted Kennedy, Jr., was also at the State House on Thursday. "I think he really will be an excellent steward of my father's seat in Congress," Kennedy said. "He knows my father. He knows my father's staff."

It's precisely the mobilization of the Kennedy family behind Kirk that critics of Patrick's choice say is the problem.

"Clearly, the pick involved nothing more than a puff of smoke out of the Kennedy compound," said House Republican leader Brad Jones.

Jones said Patrick should have considered other factors. "For one, I can't help but question whether this was more a pick about the best interests of Massachusetts or the best interests of Deval Patrick's political career," Jones said. "He has a race for re-election next year. The Kennedy family supported his preferred candidate for president."

Patrick denied that he caved in to pressure from the Kennedy family.

Kennedy's widow, Victoria Reggie Kennedy, also at the State House on Thursday, admitted that she had spoken to Patrick to endorse Kirk, but denied that she pressured him.

"This was absolutely the governor's decision," Vicki said. "I certainly told him the high esteem in which the whole Kennedy family held Paul Kirk, but this was always the governor's decision. "

So the question now is whether Kirk gets to take the oath of office Friday afternoon.

Republicans are trying to get a court order to stop the swearing-in. They argue that the law allowing the governor to appoint an interim senator doesn't go into effect until December, because the Legislature did not declare an emergency situation allowing it to take effect now.

Gov. Deval Patrick said governors have the authority to declare emergencies on their own.

"I am satisfied that I am both within the law and within tradition. My understanding is that my predecessor, my Republican predecessor, used this power some 14 or more times," Patrick said. "So I am quite convinced from counsel that I am within the law and within custom."

But Republicans say in those cases, the Legislature was silent on whether there was an emergency. In this case, the Legislature considered declaring an emergency, but decided not to when it was clear the votes weren't there.

So with Democrats heading to Washington to install a new senator, Republicans are heading to court to stop the whole thing.

This program aired on September 24, 2009.

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Fred Thys Reporter
Fred Thys reported on politics and higher education for WBUR.



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