Thoughts on the Kennedy Succession

Should Massachusetts change its rules in case the ailing senator needs to be replaced?

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Today's Boston Globe story about Ted Kennedy's Senate seat has, predictably, taken the political and media world by storm. The Globe reported that Senator Kennedy, in a letter to Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, asked for a change in Massachusetts law that would "guarantee that Massachusetts will not lack a Senate vote when his seat becomes vacant." The current law provides for a special election within five months of the vacancy--too long a gap, perhaps, if Democrats end up needing that sixtieth vote to pass a health-care reform bill.

This would have been enough, on its own, to ignite controversy and debate. The Globe also noted, though, that until five years ago "Massachusetts governors used to have the power to fill Senate vacancies. [...] Democratic lawmakers, then as now in the majority, did not want to give Governor Mitt Romney the chance to fill Kerry's seat with a Republican if Kerry won the presidency."

Predictably, some have found the Kennedy story touching, and others horrifying. Here are some of the most interesting responses thus far, from both liberals and conservatives.

  • The Rule Is Stupid  "I think there's a good lesson here," wrote the New Republic's Jason Zengerle concerning the Romney/Kerry change, "about legislative bodies being careful not to muck around with these sorts of rules for short-term political gain." While admitting that it followed that the legislature shouldn't "mess with the rule as it now exists," Zengerle argued that the current rule "seems really stupid." Kennedy's compromise--a temporary appointee barred from running in the special election--Zengerle found "exceedingly sensible."
  • A Reasonable Compromise, agreed Adam B on the liberal opinion site Daily Kos. "I'm not crazy about the notion that Massachusetts might keep changing its temporary appointment powers depending on who the Governor is," he acknowledged, but the Kennedy proposal sounded to him like a "durable solution." One addition: "any temporary Senator" should "be of the same party as the incumbent creating the vacancy."
  • What Happened to the Rule of Law?  Ed Morrissey of Hot Air called Kennedy's argument a "pile of hypocrisy." Allowing that there were "good arguments to be made" for both sides of the gubernatorial election/special appointment question, he strongly condemned the current proposal: "Actions by a state legislature and demands by partisan hacks to keep going back and forth depending on the party registration of the Governor makes a mockery of the rule of law and underscores the fact that machine politics runs Massachusetts."
  • Let's Get One Thing Clear: Noble This is Not  Rob on the Say Anything blog was one of the first to the table this morning with a brilliantly clear, critical response:
I appreciate Ted Kennedy’s desire to see the people of Massachusetts represented by two Senators during the heated health care debate, but maybe he should have thought about as his health failed months ago.  Kennedy has known that he was going to battling cancer for some time now.  He’s also been in the Senate for, frankly, generations now.  Maybe he should have stepped aside a while ago?

He didn’t, because like most of our political elite he just can’t let go of power.  And now it appears as though he’s actually angling to name his own successor.

I know that it’s fashionable among some in the media elite to refer to the Kennedy’s [sic] as American royalty.  Maybe Teddy has started to believe it.
  • A Third Path: You Want Noble?  In a deft sidestep and an interesting switch in the debate, left-leaning Washington Post blogger Ezra Klein didn't attempt to defend or attack the Kennedy proposal: "This is [...] the place where the rubber hits the road on all that talk about Senate civility and courtliness and respect. If the Massachusetts political order doesn't move to preserve Kennedy's voice, surely there is some Republican who will agree to trade his vote for cloture with Ted Kennedy." Specifically mentioning Senator Orrin Hatch's pro-filibuster stance, he declared, "it is neither decent nor small-d democratic to doom health care because the bill's greatest advocate contracted incurable brain cancer."

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