According to the Globe and other outlets, a bill that would change the state's election laws to grant Governor Patrick the power to appoint an interim Senator has been given an expedited hearing date - September 9. The Globe calls this "a signal that Beacon Hill is moving to accommodate Kennedy's request that Massachusetts maintain two voices in the Senate." More than a "signal," though, this move is pretty much confirmation that the bill will pass. In the tightly-controlled semi-dictatorship that is the Massachusetts Legislature, bills are not expedited that Leadership does not intend to pass.
So we will have an interim Senator Dukakis. Or an interim Senator Vicki Kennedy. Or an interim Senator Random-guy-who-raises-a-lot-of-money-for-Dems-and-thinks-it-would-be-cool-to-be-a-Senator-for-a-few-months. Whoever lands in the spot will not matter much for Massachusetts in specific; this is and always has been primarily about maintaining the Democrats' 60-vote Senate supermajority for pending votes on health care and eco-nanny statism.
Since we lack the ability to stop this political power play, the challenge for Republicans is to react appropriately, to best harness and leverage reaction to the move. We should not throw tantrums that only serve to highlight our impotence.
What we should do it put this episode squarely in its proper context, and make sure it remains a prominent part of our talking points going forward. Considered in a political vacuum, it is not a facially bad thing for the Commonwealth to maintain its two votes in the Senate. That is why, the last time this issue came up, Republicans were squarely in favor of giving then-Governor Romney the power to make an interim appointment. In isolation, what the Democrats will do within the next couple of weeks emits no particular odor. It is only when it is combined with the change they made to the law just five years ago, to strip a Republican Governor of the power they will now re-grant to one with a 'D' after his name, that it begins to stink like week-old garbage in a summertime garage.
The laws governing how we elect our representatives to the U.S. Congress are not far removed from the Constitution - they are of that degree of importance, and ought to enjoy a level of stability commensurate to their importance. This semi-annual tinkering is crass and unseemly, regardless of the merits of any particular change.
Hardly a month goes by without a new example of our home state's own arrogant legislative super-majority abusing its power and taking its own perpetual reelection for granted. This episode will be just the most recent example. Here's hoping the growing number of Republicans eying a legislative run next year use it appropriately.
UPDATE: This just came through from the State House News:
House Minority Leader Bradley Jones said his 16-member caucus generally agrees that it is “wholly inappropriate” to change U.S. Senate succession laws to apply to an already-vacant seat. Jones said he supports the idea of an interim appointment – as he did when Democrats stripped the governor of appointment power in 2004 – in advance of a special election, but said a new law shouldn’t affect the now-vacant seat of Sen. Edward Kennedy, who passed away last week.Excellent move. It will be ignored, but this is just exactly how Republicans ought to be positioning for this non-debate. It takes care of counter-hypocrisy charges based on the arguments Republicans made five years ago, and highlights the true motive behind the Democrats' power grab. As Governor Patrick might put it, the GOP's position is "eminently reasonable." Well done!