Democrats urge interim Kennedy replacement

A temporary replacement for Kennedy's Senate seat would let Democrats maintain their crucial 60 votes in the Senate. But state Republicans oppose the move.

Bizuayehu Tesfaye / AP
Sen. John Kerry, center, (D) of Massachusetts, speaks alongside US Rep. William Delahunt (D) of Massachusetts, during a public hearing before the Joint Committee on Election Laws at the Statehouse in Boston.

It was a full house. Citizens from across Massachusetts crowded a Statehouse auditorium Wednesday wearing buttons with the slogan, “Do it for Ted,” and holding signs that read, “Honor the law, protect democracy.”

Most prominent were the bold blue stickers: “We need two Senators.”

Sen. John Kerry (D) led state Democrats’ demand Wednesday for an interim replacement to fill the late Edward Kennedy’s Senate seat until a permanent one can be selected in a special election in January. At a public hearing held by the Massachusetts Joint Committee on Election Laws, Senator Kerry and Rep. Bill Delahunt (D) stressed that Massachusetts needs two Senators to best serve its citizens.

“One vote can make all the difference,” said Kerry, citing examples in the history of the Senate where legislation hinged on a single Senator’s vote. He added that pending healthcare, climate change, and financial reform legislation this fall will make it “the busiest, most hotly contested” schedule before the Senate in recent times.

An interim senator would preserve the Democrats’ filibuster-proof 60-vote Senate majority.

The idea was first proposed by Kennedy himself in a letter to the governor and lawmakers before his death last month. But state Republicans accuse Democrats of being hypocritical – it was a Democratic-controlled legislature that created the law in 2004 to prevent then Republican Gov. Mitt Romney from appointing a GOP replacement for Kerry if he won the presidential election and vacated his Senate seat.

At the public hearing Wednesday, state Rep. Paul Frost (R) hammered Democrats, asking whether they’d still support the amendment if Massachusetts had a Republican senator.

Representative Frost supported legislating for an interim replacement in 2004 – which was brought to his attention at the hearing – but he says that amending the law now would amount to “changing the rules in the middle of the game.”

“You just can’t flip flop on the law,” said Amy Kelley, a small business owner who traveled from Quincy, Mass., to address the committee.

Appointing an interim senator “is solely to benefit one party by carrying out its political agenda” she said in her statement to the Democrat-dominated committee. Only three of the committee’s 17 members are Republicans.

One state Republican lawmaker, Rep. Bradley Jones, said he would support the amendment if it took effect after January’s special election. “I will not support the change to the election law that effects this vacancy,” he said in an interview before the hearing.

Democrats say the law change would simply be plugging a gap the legislature created with the move to special elections five years ago. Kerry went so far as to admit that Republicans were right when they proposed legislating a provision for an interim appointment in 2004.

“It was a good half step,” said Paul Bouchard, an international staff representative for Communication Workers of America (CWA), who came to the hearing with about 50 CWA members. “But five months is too long to wait.”

Gov. Deval Patrick (D), who was not in attendance at Wednesday’s hearing because he is recovering from hip replacement surgery, called the amendment a “modest change” in a press conference last week. He has said he’ll sign the bill if it reaches his desk.

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