By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Democracy and the Senate (III)

Not a bad idea: the New York Times, in disparaging Ted Kennedy’s proposal that an interim senator be appointed who’d serve during the five months before a special election could be held, suggests instead that the special election be moved up.

Although I don’t have a problem with Kennedy’s idea, the Times’ solution sounds pretty good, too. Instead of five months, why not six weeks?

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The Times’ missing corrections


  1. Steve Stein

    Does the current law already allow for a shorter interval between resignation and special election (“special election will be held within 5 months” or some such wording)? Or is the 5 month interval mandated by the existing law?

  2. Sean

    Why not resign now, with an effective date in the future, and schedule the special election now, to be held shortly after the effect resignation date?

  3. Mr Punch

    Holding an election on six weeks’ notice won’t do much to advance democracy. Viable candidates are likely to be limited to those who already have statewide recognition, and a lot of money in hand — a very small pool. Then we’ll have an elected incumbent who’ll presumably run for reelection.

    Kennedy’s proposal is better.

  4. Nial Liszt

    Life in a Kennedocracy. The legislature should just go ahead and codify what they have been attempting to accomplish. If a Republican is in office, an election is held. If a Democrat is governor, an appointment is made. If the Green-Rainbow Party is in power, a six million person seance takes place. The biggest problem with an election held within six weeks would be the tremendous advantage to current officeholders with their already existing campaign accounts all dressed up and nowhere to go.

  5. Steve Stein

    So, Mr. Punch, does democracy exist in the UK? (Parliamentary elections there are concluded in 17 business days, I believe).

  6. Michael Pahre

    Holding snap elections is not an exercise in democracy; it’s an exercise in holding onto power for entrenched interests, particularly those who already have big warchests.

    I doubt that the law allows for a special election to be scheduled until the seat is vacant, so post-dating a resignation letter won’t cut it.

    While everyone is very polite and deferential towards Senator Kennedy, part of this problem could have been avoided if he had stepped down soon after his (apparently terminal) cancer was diagnosed. People here love him and would’ve respected greatly such a decision; instead, a year later, we’re stuck with a mess in timing related to a vote on the health care reform bill in Congress.

  7. Peter Porcupine

    DK – the 2004 law also established an earliest date possible, and was deliberately set late so all the Congressmen could fundraise for the primary. Soooo…it would require a law change, and since we’re already there ANYWAYS…

    Please note the Democrats have had five years to correct this problem, and couldn’t be bothered. And yet, if Sen. A is killed windsurfing, and Sen. B is in a plane crash three months apart, it require not one but TWO special elections.

  8. Newshound

    It is a matter of democracy for voters to choose their senators. If it is only one vote or a 100 votes, if the senator is chosen by a politician it’s politics.

    Commitment to principles of protecting the rights and freedoms of all Massachusetts voters, partisan or not, is more important than protecting the rights of Democrats or delegating someone to tombstone vote even if on such a significant potential bill as universal and controversial health care.

    Maybe lessons will be learned from this and laws will be changed so voters can elect an alternate senator the same as vice president and lieutenant governor to prevent this from happening again. I’d be against that, too.

    This is just the way life is – – – some senators become sick and don’t resign. I wish Mr. Kennedy comfort in his illness. But, the U. S. Senate is not a one-person job.

    Mr. Kennedy’s vote represents one percent, and I can’t think of anything right now running at better than 99 percent.

  9. Neil

    Sufficient time for a primary and an unabridged campaign seems important for a seat that has a six year term in our most deliberative legislative body.

    At the same time, the people of Massachusetts (or any state) deserve two representatives in the US Senate if we (or they) are to have the full representation that we are entitled to under the Constitution.

    I am for a change in the law, if not now, then for the next time so that the Governor can appoint an interim Senator until an election is concluded.

    I would also argue that the election be no less than six months in duration and be held on election day to maximize democratic (small d) participation.

    Because an appointment is undemocratic, the appointee must accept the position under the terms that they will not run for the seat in the upcoming election.

    God bless Ted Kennedy. RIP. 8/25/9

  10. mike_b1

    Neil, the Constitution sets specific, but very achievable, qualifications for US Senators. Don’t you think that restricting an otherwise qualified appointee’s ability to run is at odds with the Constitution?

  11. Neil

    I don’t know what provisions the Constitution defines for interim appointments by States to the US Senate.

    The governor’s candidate for the interim US Senator appointment could choose to decline the appointment and instead run a campaign for the seat… choose to forgo the appointment for a chance to earn the elected seat.

    Having a Governor appoint a interim to serve until the special election is complete addresses the issue of representation during the interim.

    And because incumbents hold an advantage (an arguably unfair advantage for an incumbent who was never elected but undemocratically appointed for the interim) I would have the appointment be made on the terms that the appointee would not run for the seat during the special election cycle. After all, we want them representing us on the Hill not campaigning.

    To me, winning an election as Gov shouldn’t entitle the Governor’s party to an advantage in seating a Senator for a six year term but should allow the Gov to appoint an interim so that the state is fully represented in the senate. I think my plan accomplishes this in a way two parties could agree to.

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