Political fallout from Edward J. Markey's 11th-hour decision to discontinue his candidacy for the US Senate, in favor of a reelection bid for the US House, may not blow away soon.
Although the congressman from Malden had a perfect right to change his mind about reaching for higher office, the move can hardly be expected to enhance his elective career. Indeed, it could cost him the seat he has held for the past 71/ 2 years.
But regardless of Representative Markey's political future, his decision to quit the Senate race only a week before the filing deadline for his nomination papers underscores a major shortcoming in Massachusetts election laws. Worse, his decision came just a few hours before the filing cutoff for the state legislature, which affected three state lawmakers who had to decide whether to continue their campaigns for Markey's congressional seat or to try retaining their state posts.
In the aftermath of this shuffle, the Markey decision raises two serious questions worthy of lawmaker consideration:
1.Should an office-seeker (incumbent or no), having applied for and begun circulation of nomination papers, be allowed to seek signatures either simultaneously or in the same campaign to run for a different elective post?
2.Should a candidate, having collected funds to run for one office, be permitted to use these funds in a quest for another political niche in the same election, if the candidate changes his or her campaign sights?
From an ethical standpoint, at least, the answer to the second question appears to be a resounding ''no.''
When people contribute to help a candidate gain or retain a particular office , there is no certainty any donors want their money used by the candidate to campaign for a different elective seat.
In the spirit of fair play, Markey may want to return every one of the more than $270,000 he had collected for his run for the US Senate seat being vacated at year's end by fellow-Democrat Paul E. Tsongas. The congressman, now bent on reelection, could begin raising funds (with perhaps a clearer political conscience) for what should be a less costly campaign to retain his seat in the state's Seventh Congressional District.
If nothing else, this would put him on more even footing with his challengers , none of whom are likely to raise anywhere near as much momey in their bid for the US House seat as Markey collected in his 31/2 months as a contender for the US Senate seat.
While it will never be known who would have challenged Markey if he decided in the first place to seek reelection, an open US House seat in a heavily Democratic district was, understandably, a great temptation for at least four would-be congressmen.
Two of the four original Seventh District aspirants - state Reps. Michael J. McGlynn (D) of Medford and Nicholas A. Paleologos (D) of Woburn - speedily shifted gears after Markey's unexpected May 1 announcement and, instead, are running for reelection to the Massachusetts legislature.
State Rep. Michael J. Barrett (D) of Reading and former state Sen. Samuel Rotondi (D) of Winchester, however, have decided not to back off. As a result, the Democratic voters of the Markey district will have a choice, for the first time since he won the congressional seat in 1976, over who they want their party's nominee to be.
If Massachusetts had a law preventing candidates from circulating nomination papers for more than one office in the same election, Markey would have been forced to stick with his senatorial campaign or to retreat quietly to the political sidelines. And Representatives McGlynn and Paleologos, too, would not have had to scurry around at the last minute to collect the needed 150 Democratic voter signatures to run for reelection to the state legislature.
In fairness to Markey and the others, what they did was not only legal but also not terribly unusual.
Keeping all political options open for as long as possible is a common practice among officeholders, especially those eyeing a move to a higher seat.
At least two factors appeared to have contributed to the congressman's decision to quit the Senate race:
First: his second-place but none-too-impressive position, behind Lt. Gov. John F. Kerry, among Democratic senatorial candidates in a recent Becker Institute voter preference sampling.
Second: his failure to come close to US Rep. James M. Shannon, a fellow liberal seeking the Tsongas seat, on any of four endorsement ballots at the April 28 convention of Citizens for Participation in Political Action.
That group, comprised largely of political liberals, is heavily committed to a broad range of issues including the nuclear weapons freeze, a cause for which Markey has been in the forefront in Congress.
Several other incumbents in various state and federal offices this year, as in the past, have had nomination papers in circulation for two elective posts at the same time, or at least in the same campaign.
Since it is possible for a candidate to run for only one seat on the same ballot, a decision must be made before the filing deadline - 5 p.m. May 1 for the state legislature, and the same hour a week later for Congress and the US Senate.
If political aspirants were allowed to pursue only one office at a time, there would be less of an early rush to take out nomination papers - and, quite possibly, greater care in deciding what to do.
In his zeal to upstage potential foes for the Tsongas senatorial seat, Markey made his move two days after the incumbent's unexpected retirement announcement.
If it were legally impossible for the Seventh District congressman to retreat to a reelection bid for that seat (should he later choose not to compete for the Senate nomination), he just might have shied away from even a short-lived campaign for the higher office.
This surely would have spared Markey from last week's embarrassing move - one that has done nothing to endear him to some members of his party or voters and contributors who were supporting his Senate candidacy.
Some state lawmakers, at least those who have circulated nomination papers for different offices as recently as this spring, may be reluctant to consider legislation to restrict this practice. Yet, why should an officeholder be able to wait, sizing up the competition, before embarking on a candidacy that may be abandoned - if the going later looks too tough - for a move in another elective direction?
This is not to suggest that an aspirant for any political office should be forced to stay in the race if, as apparently in Markey's case, he or she concludes prospects for victory are unpromising. At the same time, it is questionable whether, having made the decision to move up, a candidate will find it desirable to make an 11th-hour retreat to another seat.
If Massachusetts lawmakers should prove unwilling to restrict candidate mobility in this way, it might make sense to change the dates for filing nomination papers. In this way, those running for higher office would have to file their support-signatures at the same time, not a week or more later, as aspirants for lower rungs on the elective ladder.
If such an arrangement were now in effect, those in the race for the Seventh District seat would have had more time to decide what they wanted to do after Markey's last-minute move back in their direction.