- The Washington Times - Friday, August 28, 2009

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick could name a temporary successor to the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy as early as the fourth week in September under a timetable being considered by Democratic members of the legislature, a key committee chairman said Thursday.

“It is possible to get it done” by Sept. 24 or 25, said state Rep. Michael Moran, a Boston Democrat and co-chairman of the Joint Committee on Election Laws.

“Is it likely? I can’t answer that,” he said in an interview Thursday. “There are too many moving parts.”

Separately, allowing the governor to name an interim replacement would mean changing current law, which calls for a special election within five months of a Senate vacancy. There are no provisions for a temporary appointment.

Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he backs a change in Massachusetts law to allow the governor to appoint a temporary replacement for Mr. Kennedy’s seat, according to the Associated Press.

Reid spokesman Jim Manley said Thursday that with so many important issues at stake, the Nevada Democrat thinks the state needs two senators until a special election can be held, the AP reported. State law requires an election within 145 to 160 days after a Senate seat that had been held for decades by the Democrat becomes vacant.

When Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts was running for president in 2004, the governor was Mitt Romney, 62, a Republican. The law at the time empowered the governor to appoint a replacement.

The Democrat-controlled legislature changed the law to require a special election to keep Mr. Romney from appointing a Republican. Mr. Kerry’s failed presidential bid made the replacement matter moot.

A week before his death, Mr. Kennedy sent a letter to Mr. Patrick, a Democrat, urging him to persuade lawmakers to change the law so that someone could fill in before the special election. Mr. Kennedy argued in the letter that Massachusetts should have a mechanism to allow for the full complement of two senators as soon as possible after a resignation or death.

Possible candidates in the special election include Democratic U.S. Reps. Stephen F. Lynch, Michael E. Capuano, Edward J. Markey, Jim McGovern and Bill Delahunt.

State Attorney General Martha Coakley and former Rep. Martin Meehan, both Democrats, could also contend, as could former Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey, a Republican.

A Democratic interim appointee would help keep the party’s 60-vote majority needed to maintain U.S. Senate support for health care legislation, a top priority for President Obama. Sixty votes are the minimum needed to end debate and force a vote on a bill. Mr. Kennedy had called health care “the cause of my life.”

“Any time you get a letter from Ted Kennedy, you certainly read it and consider whether you can accommodate him,” Mr. Moran said.

The timetable outlined by Mr. Moran starts with a possible Sept. 17 hearing by the committee he co-chairs with state Sen. Thomas Kennedy.

“That’s the date that’s been under discussion,” said Mr. Kennedy, a Democrat who isn’t related to Edward M. Kennedy. “I caution that there is no agreement on this, but it’s the one we’ve been talking about.”

Procedurally, the bill would be heard by the committee on that Thursday. The panel would then go into executive session to poll the members. A report would be issued and the legislature could vote within days, possibly by the end of the next week, Sept. 24 or 25.

Mr. Patrick, in an interview with the Boston public radio station WBUR on Wednesday, said he would sign such a bill when it lands on his desk. As soon as he signs, Mr. Moran said, he could choose the interim replacement.

“The biggest hurdle is that nobody, including me, wants to see this is as a handoff,” that is, having the governor appoint someone temporarily who then becomes the frontrunner in the special election for the permanent seat, Mr. Moran said.

Nicholas Johnston contributed to this report.

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