The notion that the Boston Globe and the Boston Herald represent ideologically opposite editorial positions is overblown. The Herald and its editorial-page editor, Rachelle Cohen, aren’t really all that conservative. And the Globe, whose editorial page recently transitioned from longtime editor Renée Loth to former Washington-bureau chief Peter Canellos, is just contrarian enough on issues like charter schools to keep liberals agitated.
An exception is today. The Globe offers its full-throated endorsement to Sen. Ted Kennedy’s proposal that would allow Gov. Deval Patrick to name an interim senator in the event of a vacancy. The interim would serve until a special election could be held five months later. With Kennedy’s battle against brain cancer apparently entering its final stages, the matter has taken on special urgency.
In supporting Kennedy’s proposal, the Globe criticizes the Legislature for having taken the gubernatorial appointment away five years ago, when it appeared that Sen. John Kerry might be elected president and Democratic leaders at the Statehouse did not want then-governor Mitt Romney, a Republican, to name Kerry’s successor. The Globe calls the 2004 law “a partisan bill.”
Which, of course, it was. And which leads the Herald to invoke that same 2004 action as a reason to reject Kennedy’s current proposal, in an editorial headlined “Hypocrisy factor.”
Yet Kennedy is not proposing that the 2004 be repealed. Instead, he’s suggesting a slight tweak that would benefit the state, which otherwise would go without a vote in the Senate for five months. (I’ll note without comment that Massachusetts went without two full-time senators during Kerry’s presidential campaign and, now, through long stretches of Kennedy’s illness.)
Kennedy’s idea is to choose a person who would make a personal pledge not to run in the special election. The Herald observes that Romney had proposed a similar provision only to get shot down. But that’s no reason not to adopt a good idea now. And I’ll go one better. Assuming there isn’t some constitutional reason not to do it, why not write the no-run requirement directly into the Kennedy proposal and give it the force of law?
Obviously that’s not going to satisfy Herald columnist Howie Carr, who portrays Kennedy’s move as one last grand gesture of deathbed hackery — and makes much of the fact that Kennedy’s letter to state leaders, reportedly sent on Tuesday, is dated July 2 (a catch made yesterday by friend of Media Nation Beth Wellington). Carr takes the mysterious timing of the letter as a sign that Kennedy’s time is almost up, and he may be right.
But so what? This strikes me as a can’t-lose idea. The benefit of the 2004 law would remain intact — Kennedy’s successor would be chosen at the ballot box, not by the governor. Meanwhile, the state would continue to have representation in the Senate.
Which is why I’m especially intrigued by Globe columnist Scot Lehigh’s suggestion that former governor Michael Dukakis fill the role as interim senator. (Disclosure: Dukakis is a colleague of mine at Northeastern, although only to the extent that we exchange hand waves.)
Media Nation commenter Amused thinks Dukakis “comes with too much baggage, a lot of it unjustifiable.” I disagree. Dukakis’ three terms as governor did not end well, but, outside the exceedingly small universe of talk radio, he is mainly seen as competent and honest. And, as Lehigh notes, Dukakis knows health-care policy. It’s a great idea.
A final note. Also in the Herald, once and future Romney spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom quotes from a 2004 Boston Phoenix editorial supporting the bill that took away the gubernatorial appointment. I may well have had a hand in writing that editorial — I recognize some of the clichés as being all mine.
But the editorial specifically objected to the idea of a governor filling the remainder of a senator’s term if his seat became vacant. In Kerry’s case, that would have been two years. By contrast, what we’re talking about now is having an interim, temporary senator appointed as soon as there’s a vacancy, followed by a special election five months later. That’s quite a difference.