By Reid Wilson - 08/29/09 03:20 PM EDT
Massachusetts lawmakers are beginning to rally behind a plan that would allow for a special appointment to fill the late Sen. Edward Kennedy's (D) seat, allowing the Democratic caucus to maintain a critical vote margin as the Senate takes up major health care and energy reform.
State law requires a special election to fill a vacancy, to be held between 145 and 160 days of a vacancy occurring. The law was changed in 2004, when Sen. John Kerry (D) sought the White House and Republican Gov. Mitt Romney held the power to appoint a replacement.
But with healthcare legislation and the rest of an ambitious Democratic agenda hanging in the balance, support is growing for a quick legislative fix that would give Gov. Deval Patrick (D) the power to appoint a temporary replacement.
Were Patrick allowed to appoint a replacement senator, it would give Demcorats the 60 votes they need to overcome Republican filibusters, counting independents Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
It is an idea Kennedy himself urged on his home state legislators. In a letter last week, Kennedy told Patrick and leaders in both chambers on Beacon Hill he supported changing the law.
Democratic leaders expressed willingness to push forward with such a proposal, but it would take time to work its way through the state legislative process, which could delay any possible appointment significantly and perhaps make the effort moot.
Patrick told a local radio station Wednesday that he would support such a change, and state Senate President Therese Murray has reportedly warmed to the idea after initially giving it a cold reception.
Patrick said he would urge the state legislature to adopt the change.
“I believe that the senator’s request to permit the governor to appoint someone to serve for that five months until a special election was entirely reasonable,” Patrick told WBUR-FM in Boston. “I think, particularly now, when you think about the momentous change legislation that is pending in the Congress today, Massachusetts needs two voices.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is pushing for an appointment as well, citing the upper chamber's busy workload.
"While it is ultimately up to the people of Massachusetts and their representatives at the state house to decide this matter, Sen. Reid agrees with Sen. Kennedy and Gov. Patrick that the law should be changed," Jim Manley, a Reid spokesman, said. "With so many important matters to be decided, the people of the commonwealth need two senators to represent Massachusetts until the special election."