Kennedy gets wish, Senate seat to be filled soon

The Massachusetts Senate voted Tuesday to let the governor appoint an interim replacement for the late Ted Kennedy. Former Gov. Michael Dukakis is the favorite.

By , Staff writer

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    Mass. Senate Minority Leader Richard Tisei, R-Wakefield, left, is followed by Sen. Scott Brown, R-Wrentham, as they leave the Senate Chambers after Massachusetts Senate has approved a bill allowing the governor to name an interim replacement for the late Sen. Edward Kennedy at the Statehouse in Boston, Tuesday. Both men voted against the bill.
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The Massachusetts Senate voted Tuesday afternoon to approve a bill that would allow the governor to appoint an interim senator to fill the late Ted Kennedy’s seat in Washington.

Senator Kennedy requested the change before his death to ensure that Democrats would have their full complement of senators for the crucial vote on healthcare reform expected later this year.

Without the change, Kennedy’s seat would have remained empty until a January special election. The bill has already passed the House, and Gov. Deval Patrick is expected to sign the bill this week.

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The passage of the bill kicks into overdrive speculation about whom Governor Patrick might appoint to fill Kennedy’s seat.

“The safest choice is [former Gov. Michael] Dukakis,” says Dan Payne, a Massachusetts-based Democratic media consultant. “He will see this race as a capstone, not a steppingstone to his career.”

Patrick has previously stated that he will elicit assurances from any candidates for the temporary appointment that they will not run in the Jan. 19 special election – again in accordance with Kennedy’s request.

Governor Dukakis has long been involved in Massachusetts state politics. He served as a state representative from 1962 to 1970 and governor from 1975 to 1979 and again from 1983 to 1991. He ran as the Democratic candidate for president in 1988, losing to George H. W. Bush. Most recently, he’s been a professor of political science at Northeastern University in Boston.

Dukakis is also appealing because he maintains a strong following of older Democrats in the state, according to Mr. Payne. Patrick could have this in mind as he considers his re-election bid and his suffering popularity in the state.

Patrick will also be taking into account candidate’s federal political credentials and ability to contribute to the healthcare reform debate, says Stephen Ansolabehere, professor of government at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass.

Other candidates could include:

Paul Kirk, a former Democratic National Committee chairman and chair of the John F. Kennedy Library.

• Former Attorney General Scott Harshbarger, who has also been hired by ACORN to investigate its activities.

• Kennedy’s former chief of staff Nick Littlefield.

Professor Charles Ogletree of Harvard Law School

• Former state Treasurer Shannon O’Brien.

A wild card choice could be someone with tied to the healthcare system in the state – like the head of one of Boston’s major hospitals, says Professor Ansolabehere. Despite a lack of political experience, they could make sure the state’s unique healthcare needs are represented in the national reform debate.

The bill won approval by a slim 24 to 16 margin Tuesday after Senate Republicans used procedural tactics to delay debate for two days.

Election laws “should never be changed on a whim,” said Sen. Scott Brown (R), who is a candidate in the special election and has been a vocal opponent of the bill. He accused Democrats of wanting “a rubber stamp in Washington” to approve healthcare reform, climate change, and immigration legislation.

Democrats stressed the need for two voting senators with the Senate’s full calendar this fall and to serve constituent cases.

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