THE MASSACHUSETTS Senate could vote as early as today on a bill to let Governor Patrick name an interim replacement for Senator Edward Kennedy. State senators should pass the measure, and Patrick should be ready to make an appointment quickly. The best choice to fill the vacancy is former governor Michael S. Dukakis.
Whether the bill passes or not, voters will choose a successor for Kennedy early next year. But especially with a debate raging over health care reform, Massachusetts can’t wait until early next year to have full representation in Washington. The ideal candidate for the interim job would have a high profile, significant policy expertise, and a record of political independence - but no further political ambitions. Dukakis is the most logical choice; indeed, he may be the only one who meets all the relevant criteria.
As Patrick faces a tough reelection battle, he may be reluctant to return the state’s last Democratic governor to the political stage, for fear of inviting more comparisons between the state’s current fiscal troubles and the economic crisis of the late 1980s and early ’90s. But Patrick shouldn’t let what happened a generation ago bother him now. And he should resist the temptation to choose a non-politician for what will be a four-month stint.
The interim senator will have to do more than join the health care debate. He or she will have to represent Massachusetts’s interests in hundreds of funding requests and constituent services. Dukakis, as a former Democratic presidential nominee, knows how politics works and can get his phone calls returned. He is far more likely to deliver tangible returns for Massachusetts residents than a career academic or anyone else who has never held elected office.
A variety of other names have been bruited about in recent weeks, most of which represent a cleaner break from Massachusetts political history. But Dukakis remains what he’s always been: a dedicated student of public policy with a record of serving this state honestly and effectively.