Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Masters Of Hypocrisy

New York Times - By the end of this week, there is likely to be a new senator from Massachusetts.

The State Senate on Tuesday approved a bill that would let Gov. Deval Patrick appoint an interim replacement for the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy. The measure won passage in the House of Representatives last week and is expected to land on Mr. Patrick’s desk Wednesday.

The appointee would serve in the United States Senate only until a special election takes place on Jan. 19, but could play a crucial role in the fate of health care legislation making its way through Congress. With Mr. Kennedy’s seat empty, Senate Democrats are not assured the 60 votes required to break Republican filibusters.

Mr. Patrick has refused to discuss potential appointees, but Michael S. Dukakis, the former governor and 1988 presidential nominee, is said to be under consideration. Other possibilities include Paul G. Kirk Jr., a former aide to Mr. Kennedy and chairman of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation in Boston; Evelyn Murphy, a former lieutenant governor; and Charles Ogletree, a professor at Harvard Law School. The bill does not prohibit the temporary appointee from seeking Mr. Kennedy’s seat permanently — legislators feared that such a condition would not pass constitutional muster — but Mr. Patrick has said he will ask the appointee to promise not to run in the special election.

Mr. Patrick’s office did not immediately return a call seeking comment on the vote.

The Senate voted 24 to 16, with all 5 Republicans and 11 Democrats opposed. Therese Murray, the Senate president, remained publicly noncommittal on the proposal until just before the vote, despite calls from the Obama administration and from Victoria Reggie Kennedy, Mr. Kennedy’s widow. Ms. Murray ultimately supported it.

Some Democrats have joined Republicans in attacking the proposal as overly partisan, and the floor debate leading up to the vote focused on that charge. Governors here had the power to fill Senate vacancies until 2004, when the Democratic majority in the Legislature changed the law to require a special election. Democrats worried then that if Senator John Kerry were elected president, Gov. Mitt Romney, a Republican, would appoint a Republican.

“Any way you slice it,” Senator Richard Tisei, the Senate minority leader, said of the bill, “it’s bad precedent and bad politics.”

Under current law, Mr. Kennedy’s seat would remain empty until the special election in January. But shortly before he died of brain cancer last month, Mr. Kennedy asked the Legislature to change the law and allow Mr. Patrick, a fellow Democrat, to name a temporary successor to fill the seat until the special election.

Although Mr. Kennedy did not mention the health care legislation as a reason for changing the law, it was almost certainly a factor in his request; he was a chief supporter of overhauling the health care system, calling it “the cause of my life.”

Senator Robert A. O’Leary, a Democrat who represents Mr. Kennedy’s hometown of Hyannis, appealed to his colleagues to approve the measure out of respect for the late senator. He reminded them that Mr. Kennedy had sent three letters shortly before his death: to Pope Benedict XI, to President Obama and to legislative leaders.

“He asked the pope for his prayers,” Mr. O’Leary said. “He asked the president to take up his life’s ambition, which was health care reform. And he asked us to stand up for the people of Massachusetts, to provide them with the representation that he had so much devoted his life to.”

He added, “I for one think that is something we need to honor.”