Should the governor appoint a new senator? | Robert Koczera

Five months is too long to wait

By Robert Koczera
August 30, 2009

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WITH THE passing of Edward Kennedy, a special election will be conducted to elect a US senator who will serve the remaining three years of his term. This special election will not be held until January. This means Massachusetts will have only half its representation in the Senate until then. With the Senate scheduled to deliberate on health care this fall, Massachusetts should have two votes not one.

In January, I filed legislation for an interim senator to serve during the period in which a special election is conducted to fill a vacant Massachusetts Senate seat. My legislation will not change the law mandating a special election five months from now. However, it will ensure that Massachusetts has its full complement of two votes during the time it takes to elect a senator. Five months is too long to go without representation.

My bill would not give an unfair advantage to any candidate. It proposes that the governor can only appoint an interim senator after the deadline has passed for candidates to file for the special election, and the governor would be prohibited by law from appointing any of the candidates in said special election. So the governor will not be in a position to influence the special election. The people will choose their senator from among the candidates in the special election.

Why appoint an interim senator pending the outcome of the special election? Because a special election in Massachusetts will take five months, and in an even-numbered year could take longer because the special election in an even-numbered year, by law, would coincide with the general election.

For 215 years, Senate vacancies in Massachusetts were filled by gubernatorial appointment, which could be for a period as long as two years. The law was changed five years ago, requiring a special election. I support a special election, however, an interim appointment such as I have suggested, will ensure that Massachusetts citizens will not lack representation in the Senate on the important issues of the day. I believe my legislation is in the public interest.

To be clear: I am not proposing to change the law calling for a special election; there will be an election if my bill passes. Some critics have called me hypocritical for sponsoring this legislation because I voted against an amendment five years ago to appoint an interim senator. But there are differences between what was on the table then and what I am proposing now. That earlier amendment did not prohibit an interim appointee from being a candidate in the special election. I believe this to be an important difference.

The Massachusetts Legislature should enact this legislation in an expeditious manner to ensure that we have two voices and two votes this fall when the Senate takes up health care legislation. My bill for an interim senator should have bipartisan support.

Then again, the special election law that passed five years ago should have had bipartisan support. It did not. In memory of Senator Kennedy, let us reach across the aisle.

Representative Robert Koczera is a Democrat from New Bedford.

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