By Aaron Blake - 09/23/09 11:23 PM EDT
The Massachusetts Legislature on Wednesday granted Gov. Deval Patrick the power to appoint a temporary replacement for the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, but with one catch: when the appointment can be made.
Lawmakers declined to allow the law to go into effect immediately, meaning Patrick (D) will either have to declare an emergency situation or wait 90 days to name Kennedy’s (D) successor.
The governor said after press time last night that he would declare an emergency so he can make the pick right away. He has scheduled an 11 a.m. announcement for Thursday.
“This is not an emergency," state Rep. Paul Frost (R) told The Associated Press, noting that it would be difficult for Patrick to declare an emergency after the State Legislature declined to do so.
The Massachusetts Republican Party responded early Thursday with a letter to the secretary of state requesting that he reject Patrick's emergency declaration and citing detailed legal precedent.
"The (state) Supreme Judicial Court has set forth that the Governor's letter to the Secretary declaring an emergency law can only be used when a law is subject to a referendum; and further, only when the law could be subject to suspension of its operation under The Referendum, III, Section 3," state GOP Chairwoman Jennifer Nassour said. "In such an instance, the Governor's letter declaring an emergency law would have the effect of terminating that suspension. No such suspension of law threat is viable in this case."
If Patrick were forced to wait 90 days, the appointment wouldn’t come until less than a month before a full-time successor is set to be chosen in a Jan. 19 special election. The bill needed a two-thirds majority in each heavily Democratic chamber in order for the law to go into effect immediately, but a significant number of Democrats joined Republicans in opposing the change.
Patrick's decision could be tempered by the fact that he has one of the lowest approval ratings of any well-known politician — 19 percent, in one survey — and faces a difficult reelection race next year.
However, an appointment would give Senate Democrats in Washington a 60th vote, ensuring the party has a filibuster-proof majority as it debates controversial legislation such as healthcare reform.
The Massachusetts GOP has already used a series of procedural maneuvers to delay the appointment bill, and the party has been united in opposition. Republicans say the move is purely partisan and note that Democrats stripped the governor of appointment powers in 2004, when Republican Mitt Romney held the office and could have picked a GOP successor to Democratic presidential nominee and Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), if he had won the White House.
Patrick is ready to make the pick in short order, and a Fox News report Wednesday suggested he had settled on former Democratic National Committee (DNC) Chairman Paul Kirk, a one-time aide to Kennedy. As of press time, the report was unconfirmed.
Patrick’s office denied that a pick had been made, and a Democratic source said it was premature to start weeding through the candidates.
“It's blue-smoke and chattering-class time,” the source said. “No one knows anything.”
Kirk and former Gov. Michael Dukakis headline the list of those mentioned as potential appointees, and jockeying began even before the power to appoint one of them was granted. The Boston Globe reported Wednesday that Kennedy’s widow, Vicki, has endorsed Kirk, as have his sons Ted Jr. and Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.).
Democratic senators on Wednesday said Kirk or Dukakis would be good additions to the chamber.
Appointed Sen. Ted Kaufman (D-Del.), who like Kirk was a longtime aide to the previous incumbent, Joe Biden, suggested Kirk was the man for the job.
“People say it’s great that I got [appointed] because I know this town, but Paul Kirk would be totally, completely brilliant," Kaufman said. "Gov. Dukakis is great too, but I think Paul just has the edge because he knows the Senate and how the place works."
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said she knew both Kirk and Dukakis well, and that either choice would provide Senate Democrats with a critical 60th vote.
"They're both senior figures, they both know this body, neither one is shy and both have a quick learning curve," Feinstein said. “When we need 60 votes, 59 doesn’t do it. That's where it's critical."
The Boston Globe has endorsed Dukakis for the post.
Other potential appointees mentioned include former Lt. Gov. Evelyn Murphy and Harvard law school Professor Charles Ogletree.
— J. Taylor Rushing contributed to this article.
-- This article was updated at 8:06 a.m.