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Massachusetts House OKs allowing a 'temp' to fill Kennedy seat

Bill approved Thursday permits the governor to appoint an interim senator until the special election. Action moves to Senate, where delay is likely.

By Tracey D. SamuelsonContributor / September 18, 2009

Massachusetts representatives enter the House chambers at the Statehouse in Boston Thursday to debate a bill that would allow Gov. Deval Patrick to name an interim appointment to the Senate seat left vacant by the death of Edward Kennedy last month.

Elise Amendola/AP

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Boston

Massachusetts legislators Thursday took a step toward filling the Senate seat of the late Sen. Edward Kennedy.

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The state House of Representatives approved a bill that would allow Gov. Deval Patrick (D), and governors who follow him, to appoint a temporary replacement to serve in the US Senate until the state can hold a special election for a replacement to serve out the remainder of the term.

State law mandates that a special election cannot occur sooner than 145 days after a vacancy occurs or later than 160 days.

The House approved the measure, 95 to 59, late Thursday.

House Republicans were outspoken in their opposition during the debate; none of the 16 Republicans present voted to approve the bill.

“This is the height of hypocrisy,” said state Rep. Lewis Evangelidis (R), noting that many of the House Democrats who supported the bill Thursday had voted against a similar measure five years ago.

In 2004, the state’s Democratic-dominated legislature changed the law to require special elections to fill a Senate vacancy. Previously, the governor was allowed to fill the seat for the remainder of the term by appointment. The change was motivated by concern that then-Gov. Mitt Romney (R) would appoint a Republican replacement for Sen. John Kerry (D), if he succeeded in his presidential bid.

“You made this law broken,” said Rep. Paul Frost (R) during the debate Thursday.

But Democrats were insistent that the state should have full representation during the Senate’s busy fall session.

“Does it really matter what happened in 2004, 2005, or 2006?” state Rep. Michael Moran (D) asked legislators. “The need is now.”

To become law, the bill must gain approval in the state Senate, where its outcome is unclear. Debate is scheduled to begin Friday afternoon, but Republicans are expected to use procedural delays to stall it until Tuesday.

Governor Patrick has said he’ll sign the bill if it reaches his desk.

There is already speculation about whom Patrick might appoint. Some reports place former Gov. Michael Dukakis as a potential frontrunner. But many other names have cropped up, as the likelihood of an interim replacement rose in recent days .

Other names that have been floated include former state Attorney General Scott Harshbarger, former Democratic National Committee chairman Paul Kirk, former Kennedy chief of staff Nick Littlefield, Prof. Charles Ogletree of Harvard Law School, and former state Treasurer Shannon O’Brien.

Meanwhile, Boston Celtics co-owner and venture capitalist Stephen Pagliuca on Thursday formally announced his candidacy for the special election, joining state Attorney General Martha Coakley in the Democratic race. US Rep. Michael Capuano (D) is expected to announce his candidacy Friday.

On the Republican side, state Sen. Scott Brown and Bob Burr, a selectman from Canton, Mass., are the only declared candidates.

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