US Senator-designate from Massachusetts, Paul Kirk (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
On Thurssday Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick (D) took advantage of new election laws to appoint former Democratic National Committee chairman and current chairman of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation Paul G. Kirk, Jr. to be the next junior senator from Massachusetts. Mr. Kirk will fill the seat that has been vacant since the death of Senator Ted Kennedy, who died August 25th after a long battle with brain cancer. President Obama in a statement said that he is "pleased that Massachusetts will have its full representation in the United States Senate in the coming months," and called Mr. Kirk a "distinguished leader."
Although Senator-designate Kirk is widely thought to be a strong, safe choice for Ted Kennedy's seat, the mode of his appointment certainly was controversial. The state legislature had changed the election laws in 2004 to prohibit then Governor Mitt Romney, a Republican, from appointing a replacement if Senator John Kerry had won the presidential election. The Democrat-controlled legislatures preferred a special election because they feared Governor Romney would appoint a Republican and a special election would have almost certainly resulted in a Democrat retaining the seat. This week the law was changed back, allowing the current, Democratic governor to make an interim appointment. The law dictating the procedure for filling a vacant seat in the US Senate has now been changed twice in five years for no reason other than to maximize the number of Democratic senators.
Perhaps the governor should have the authority to appoint an interim replacement. However, whether in liberal Massachusetts or conservative Utah, the procedure for filling open seats should not be subject to the whimsy of the political affiliation of a state's legislature and governor. There should be a federal statute that outlines a uniform procedure that should be followed for filling federal legislative vacancies. Though nothing technically illegal or improper was done in Massachusetts, the laws were obviously changed for the sake of improving the legislative capabilities of the Democratic Party in the US Senate. This is a blatant example of a political problem that can and should be recitfied simply by enacting a federal law to ensure that the same procedure is used to fill all federal legislative vacancies. It would save states and Congress a lot of confusion and unfairness and could potentially save some money as well.