Thursday, July 15, 2004

Let Mitt make Senate appointment

This column originally appeared in The Winchester Star.
The battle raging on Beacon Hill over what happens to John Kerry's U.S. Senate seat in the wake of a presidential victory is getting just a bit ridiculous.

The latest eruption has to do with a proposal forwarded by Gov. Mitt Romney on Sunday which would allow him to make an appointment to fill the seat at the time of Kerry's inauguration - with approval from Senate president or House speaker - until a special election can be held sometime in the spring of 2005.

Under the amendment, Romney would submit names for a temporary appointment to House Speaker Tom Finneran and Senate President Robert Travaglini. One of the two of them would approve one of the recommended names within three days or Romney would be free to appoint whomever he wished. Both Finneran and Travaglini balked at the idea calling it "unconstitutional."

Why Romney would want to give any power over the selection to Finneran is frankly beyond belief. But at least the governor is trying to come to a comprise which will guarantee the state has representation for the months that the seat is vacant.

Currently, Romney has the legal right to appoint a senatorial successor who would hold the seat until the next federal election cycle in November 2006. The 17th Amendment to the Constitution, ratified in 1913, grants Romney the right to make the appointment. But it also grants the Legislature the right to set a special election. The last two times a governor appointed a successor, Democrats have held the corner office. In 1985, just before being sworn in, Gov. Mike Dukakis appointed Kerry to the seat he had won a couple of months before. In 1960, a month after being elected president, John F. Kennedy resigned from his seat and lame duck Gov. Foster Furcolo appointed a family friend of Kennedy's, Ben Smith, to the Senate. Two years later, Ted Kennedy ran for the seat and was elected. Republicans - who were in a stronger political position in the state at the time - said little about the appointments. This, despite the fact that in 1960 John Volpe had just beaten Furcolo in the election and would come into office a few weeks before Kennedy's inauguration.

However, those were different political times.

The Democratically-controlled Legislature recently rammed through a bill to hold a special election within 160 days of a Senate vacancy and stripped Romney of his ability to make the appointment. Legislative leaders said the bill was about allowing "the people" to decide while at the same time eliminating "the people's" representation in the Senate. By approving this bill, the Legislature also limited the special election candidates to those who can raise huge sums of money in the shortest amount of time for a special election. Only two candidates - Rep. Ed Markey and Rep. Marty Meehan - have declared their intentions to run for the seat. Both have raised over $1 million for the race and hold good positions in polling data, according to a Boston Herald report last week. The governor has yet to sign the special election bill.

Personally, I understand the fear some Democrats have in the appointment of a Republican - even a temporary Republican - in the wake of a Kerry victory. But why the anxiety? Kerry will be the president so the Democrats won't have to worry about what happens because he will have veto power over anything that will come out of a Republican-controlled Senate, right?

Maybe. Maybe not.

Up until President George W. Bush authorized the invasion of Iraq, Democrats have been acting pretty much like Republicans for a long time. Sure, they talked a good game. But legislation-wise, look out. Most of the Massachusetts delegation voted for the invasion. They voted for the Constitution-shredding PATRIOT Act. They voted for the No Child Left Behind legislation and then refused to fund it. When Clinton was president, the Democrats were even worse, passing all kinds of bad legislation including eight planks of the GOP's Contract with America. With Democrats like these, who is really worried about Romney's appointment?

Actually, it is kind of amazing that the Democrats - the people who are always lecturing the rest of us about the hallowed nature of democracy, inclusion, diversity, and other worthy virtues - are doing everything they can to keep millions of residents from having their second voice in the Senate for more than five months. And the fact that they have set up a special election which will pretty much limit the candidates to the all-white, all-male, contributor-connected insiders is even worse.

Clearly, in the wake of a presidential victory by Kerry, the citizens of our state should not be without democratic representation just because partisans don't like that a Republican is making the appointment. Romney should be allowed to appoint a successor - it is the best thing for the people of Massachusetts.

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