U.S. Senate seat plays critical role in helping Americans

The recent passing of Senator Edward Kennedy is sad news for all of us who admired his unparalleled leadership, his tenacious advocacy for those in need, and his dedication to fairness and equality for all. He dedicated nearly all of his life to public service, and he played an instrumental role in crafting and passing major pieces of legislation throughout his career that had a real impact on families across the nation, including those in the Middlesex and Worcester district. This is a loss that will be felt deeply across the Commonwealth for years to come.

His passing, and the vacancy in the Senate that it creates, also raises many questions, and leaves our state with a serious problem to consider: should we leave the seat open – and Massachusetts underrepresented – for the next five months while we await the results of a special election, or should we modify existing law to allow for an interim appointment?

I believe that ultimately, a Senator should be elected by the people of the Commonwealth, and I would oppose any effort to take the right of the people to vote in a special election away.

However, a special election wouldn’t take place for five months, leaving Massachusetts underrepresented at a time when many important issues are being debated and resolved on the national level, including the issue so near and dear to Kennedy’s heart, healthcare reform. It was for this reason that, before his passing, Senator Kennedy requested that the Legislature revise current law to allow for an interim appointment – someone to represent Massachusetts in the Senate until the people could make their choice.

My personal feelings have not changed since the last time this issue was debated in 2004.  I have serious misgivings about giving any governor the power to appoint someone to a federal office without some kind of guarantee that they won’t be able to gain an artificial advantage in a subsequent election.  A proposal lacking such a guarantee was put forward in 2004, and I voted against it.

At the beginning of this year’s legislation session in January,  a bill was filed without much fanfare by Representative Robert Koczera, “An Act Relative to Filling a Temporary Vacancy in the United States Senate.”  The bill proposes to changes the laws for the filling a vacancy in the Senate by allowing the Governor to appoint an interim Senator but only after election papers have been filed by all the candidates wishing to participate in the special election to fill the seat, thereby preventing the interim appointee from running in the special election.

In my view, this is a reasonable proposal that maintains the spirit of the reforms passed in 2004, guaranteeing that the people get to choose their next Senator in an election while ensuring that Massachusetts is fully represented in the US Senate throughout the process.  I believe that this bill offers a wise, permanent solution to the problem of vacant statewide seats, and I will support the bill if it comes to a vote on the floor of the State Senate.

Some have suggested that any reconsideration of the laws regarding congressional vacancies would be inappropriate at this time.  I disagree.  Not only would this proposal be worth considering regardless of the unique political circumstances of the moment, but it is precisely because the issues being debated in Congress are such great significance that the legislature should move quickly to give this proposal its full consideration.

For decades Senator Kennedy has made the fight to make sure everyone has access to affordable, high-quality health care his signature issue.  The debate on national health care reform now stands at a critical juncture, and I believe that I have a responsibility to do what I can in order to ensure that the people of Massachusetts do not lose their voice in these deliberations.

12 thoughts on “U.S. Senate seat plays critical role in helping Americans

  • I completely support the Koczera bill as an excellent way both to ensure continued representation and expedite a fair election for any congressional vacancy. Thank you.

  • I have only one question. If we had a Republican Gov would you and the rest of the Democratic party still be pushing for this bill.

    I doubt it.

  • I am a little weary about any governor having this power. I would rather a vote by the people only. When Sen. Kerry was running for president he was absent from over 90% senate votes. No one brought up the issue of Ma. being under represented during this time. Be careful on this vote it can be construed as partisan politics in action.

  • Hi Jamie:

    I agree. I’d like to see the Governor appoint someone in the interim until the general election – provided of course that this individual not be allowed to run for the Senate seat. I think Massachusetts deserves two votes in the Senate.

  • Thank you for your comments. No one is talking about taking away the people’s right to elect their next U.S. Senator, but I do believe that an interim appointment is a fair compromise. There is no doubt politics involved in this, but more importantly, we need to make sure there are two Massachusetts votes in the Senate, not to mention all of the constituent services that come with a U.S. Senate position.

  • You mention that we need the representation of two senators, but if one is appointed, who is it representing? It isn’t representing the people of Massachusetts. It is representing the political desires of the governor and the governor’s party. This should not be allowed. This would be unethical politics and I agree with Fred Scerra completely.

  • I strongly disagree. If it was not for the possibility of a health care reform vote in the next few months this would not be an issue. Without this one seat health care is finished. This is not for the people but every bit for the party and President Obama’s agenda. The majority of the people do not want this. Listen to them.

  • As an alternative, what about permitting the governor to appoint the person who received the second largest quantity of votes in the most recent election of a senator? This way, the people’s vote counts and they are represented. (It may be necessary to count primary voting numbers and not just the election numbers since a greater number of voters may have preferred a candidate whose name did not appear on the final ballot.)

  • I respectfully diagree with you Jamie, and with the Democratic leadership. If Ted Kennedy had truly wanted the people of Massachusetts represented, he would have resigned when his physician informed him of his prognosis one year ago. This would have allowed a new election playing by the last set of anti-Romney rules that were rammed through the legisltaure in 2004. Today we would have a new true representative of the electorate in the senate and no feathers would have been ruffled, and we would be praising Kennedy’s final gesture of selflessness for the people of Massachusetts.

  • Thank you for your comments. I appreciate the thoughtfulness put into your ideas and suggestions, and I recognize the my position may not agree with yours.

    I believe that the Legislature needed to act quickly to ensure proper representation for Massachusetts in the U.S. Senate. I have heard the comment that people in Massachusetts don’t want to see health care reform passed, or global warming addressed, and I would respectfully disagree with that contention. I believe that a majority of Massachusetts residents want action taken on these items, as well as other such as expanding unemployment benefits, updating food safety law, and improving public education.

  • Even though we may never agree politically I do appreciate the time you have taken to answer questions and comments that I and others have had on this subject.

    I also have to give you kodos on your website and the ability to blog with you on different subjects. This is something that I haven’t seen by our other politicians in office.

    Who knows you may win me over some day

    Again Thanks for caring what we think

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