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Shameless political games in Massachusetts

By Scott Tibbs, August 27, 2009

Five years ago, when Senator John Kerry was the Democratic Party's nominee for President, Massachusetts Democrats faced a quandary: if Kerry defeated President George W. Bush, Republican Governor Mitt Romney would have the authority to appoint Kerry's replacement. To prevent this, the Democratic legislature changed state law governing the replacement of a senator who leaves office early, forcing a special election. Before he passed away earlier this week, Ted Kennedy (who supported the 2004 law) was advocating that the law be changed again to allow the governor to appoint his replacement in case he died before health care reform came up for a vote this week.

This is just shameful political gamesmanship. The 2004 law was reasonable: after all, Kerry had just been re-elected two years earlier with 80% of the vote when Republicans did not even field a candidate. Kerry won 52% of the vote in 1996 and 57% in 1990. The party preference of Massachusetts voters was clear as to which party they wanted representing them in the U.S. Senate. It would have been wrong had Republicans been able to increase their majority in the Senate had the incumbent Democratic senator been elected President.

At the same time, it is reasonable to seek a solution where Massachusetts voters will have full representation in Washington, rather than leaving the seat empty for more than four months. The problem here is not the policy merits of the 2004 change or the second change that Kennedy was advocating before his death. The problem is that politicians are gaming the system for political advantage.

If the 2004 law was bad law, there's no reason it could not have been repealed or modified some time in the last five years. The only reason Democrats wanted to switch back to having the governor (who coincidentally happens to be a Democrat) appoint someone to Kennedy's vacant seat is because the vote Kennedy held may be needed to pass President Barack Obama's proposal to overhaul the nation's health care system. Laws regarding how to fill a vacant seat should be passed based on what is the best and most efficient way to ensure that the people of a state have representation in the Senate. To change the law twice in five years for naked political gamesmanship is an abuse of the system.

Massachusetts Democrats, do you have no shame?