Analysis: Kirk Is The 'Consummate Insider' On Capitol Hill

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Gov. Deval Patrick plans to name a temporary senator Thursday morning to take the place of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy.

Former Democratic National Committee chairman Paul Kirk, also a former Kennedy aide, is said to be the choice. Members of the Kennedy family — Kennedy's widow Victoria Reggie Kennedy and his two sons, Rhode Island Rep. Patrick Kennedy and attorney Edward Kennedy II — have reportedly called the governor in support of Kirk's appointment.

WBUR political analyst Dan Payne said Kirk would probably have a lot of support among other Democrats because of his ties to the family.

"That's a pretty powerful emotional pressure that was brought to bear on this decision," Payne said of the governor's choice.

Patrick has not relished making the decision, according to Payne.

"It's no secret that Gov. Patrick is in some political trouble himself. He's not looking for opportunities to alienate any segment of the Massachusetts electorate," Payne said.

Given Patrick's declining popularity ratings, Payne said it would have been wiser to choose former Gov. Michael Dukakis because the two share a political base. He said the Patrick administration "made a calculation, I guess, that they can afford to alienate these people."

Kirk is the "consummate insider" on Capitol Hill, according to Payne. At the same time, Kirk has mostly been involved with corporate boards and the Kennedy Library Foundation. Payne said Kirk would probably have to do a state tour to let people know where he stands on certain issues.

One of the problems, Payne said, is that Kirk's opinions haven't been out in the public as much as other candidates, so it is unclear where he will come down on things like the public option component of proposed health care reforms.

"I assume he'll do what the senator would have done under similar circumstances, so I expect he'll be a hearty supporter of health reform," Payne said. "I don't know where he will come down on some of the controversial issues involved in that legislation."

Kirk has been a health care lobbyist in the past and currently sits on the board of directors of the Hartford Insurance Group. But Payne said Kirk has been a loyal supporter of Kennedy for years and would not do anything to disappoint the family.

"If he gets this position, it will be largely because the Kennedy family wanted him to have it," Payne said. "So he owes them votes and utterances that are in line with the way the late senator would have conducted himself."

At the same time, Payne said Kirk is fairly well known in Washington, D.C., because of his past work as the DNC chair and serving on several presidential debate commissions.

This program aired on September 24, 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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