- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 17, 2009

BOSTON — Massachusetts lawmakers debated on a bill Thursday that would allow Gov. Deval Patrick to name an interim appointment to the U.S. Senate seat left vacant by the death of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy last month.

Massachusetts House Speaker Robert DeLeo said he believed there were enough votes to pass the bill in the 160-member House. He said the change in law is needed to ensure that Massachusetts continues to be represented by two senators until voters can choose a replacement during a Jan. 19 special election.

“I just want to make sure that Massachusetts has a say … that Massachusetts has their voice heard on health care, on the environment, on clean energy,” said Mr. DeLeo, a Democrat.

Mr. Patrick, a Democrat and ally of President Obama, also supports the change.

The bill would require the appointee be from the same party as the person who created the vacancy, a Democrat in the case of Mr. Kennedy’s successor.

Republicans, who number just 16 in the House, opposed the bill.

They point out that Democrats changed the succession law in 2004 to create a special election and block then-Gov. Mitt Romney, a Republican, from naming a temporary replacement if Sen. John Kerry had won his presidential bid.

To change the law now that there is a Democrat in the governor’s office smacks of hypocrisy, they said.

“When Senator Kennedy passed away, we started the law that was on the books, and we shouldn’t be changing the law midstream,” said state House Republican leader Rep. Bradley H. Jones Jr. “Everything else is ancillary and extraneous to that.”

State Rep. Michael Moran, chairman of the House Committee on Election Laws, said lawmakers shouldn’t be handcuffed by past votes if they are not in the best interest of the state.

“I ask you to focus on the needs of Massachusetts not in 2004, but in 2009,” said Mr. Moran, Boston Democrat.

Other Democratic lawmakers conceded a political motive in the vote, saying they wanted to protect Mr. Kennedy’s legacy, including his signature issue of expanded health care.

“Some people say it’s political. Of course it’s political,” said state Rep. Cory Atkins, a Concord Democrat and Kennedy supporter.

Mr. Kennedy, in a letter sent to lawmakers before his death, urged the change saying “it is vital for this Commonwealth to have two voices speaking for the needs of its citizens.”

The debate is being followed closely in Washington, where Democrats hope to regain a 60-vote, filibuster-proof margin in the U.S. Senate ahead of any debate on Mr. Obama’s health care overhaul.

Mr. Kerry; U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat; and the state’s all-Democratic congressional delegations also back the change, saying they need all the votes they can to support the health care change.

Obama presidential counselor David Axelrod has contacted Massachusetts officials, according to White House press secretary Robert Gibbs. The Massachusetts branch of Mr. Obama’s political arm, Organizing for America, has sent out e-mails advocating for the change.

Mr. DeLeo said lawmakers wanted to bar any appointee from also running as a candidate in the special election, but said they could not constitutionally include that provision in the bill.

Mr. DeLeo said House lawmakers instead hoped to pass a separate resolution stating that it is the intention of the House that an appointee not also be a candidate in the special election.

Mr. Patrick has said he would extract from the appointee a promise not to be a candidate in the special election.

The bill also could surface in the Massachusetts Senate on Thursday. State Senate President Therese Murray, a Democrat, has been more tight-lipped about the bill’s chances in that chamber.

State Senate Republican leader Richard Tisei has said he’ll object to the Senate taking up the bill. Senate rules require unanimous consent to debate a bill not already on the calendar, and the succession bill wasn’t listed for Thursday’s session.

An objection would delay it until the Senate’s next formal session. There is none scheduled for Friday. Mr. Tisei could use other parliamentary moves to delay a vote for additional days.

“I will not allow it to come up,” Mr. Tisei said.

Those said to be under consideration for an interim appointment include former Gov. Michael Dukakis, former Democratic National Committee Chairman Paul Kirk Jr., former Massachusetts Senate President Robert Travaglini, former Kennedy staff chief Nick Littlefield, Harvard Law School Professor Charles Ogletree and former state Treasurer Shannon O’Brien.

The change appears to have the backing of a majority of voters.

A WHDH-TV/Suffolk University poll found 55 percent of Massachusetts voters support changing the law to allow interim senator, with 41 percent opposed. The poll of 500 registered voters was conducted Sept. 12-15 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points.

Mr. Kennedy died Aug. 25 of brain cancer.

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