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.