August 26th, 2009
01:39 PM ET
10 years ago

Kennedy's seat may remain empty for months

[cnn-photo-caption image= caption="It may be months before the Senate seat of Edward Kennedy is filled."]

(CNN) - It may be months before the Senate seat of Edward Kennedy is filled, following his death at the age of 77 on Tuesday.

A long-term vacancy could have effects far beyond Kennedy's home state of Massachusetts, since his death deprives the Democrats of the 60-vote "supermajority" with which they can theoretically force laws through the Senate despite Republican objections.

Under Massachusetts law, a special election must be held 145 to 160 days - about five months - after a Senate seat becomes vacant. The winner of that election serves the remainder of a senator's unexpired term.

Just last week, Kennedy urged that the law be changed to allow the governor to appoint a temporary replacement until the special election can be held.

In a letter to Gov. Deval Patrick and other state leaders, Kennedy said he supports the current law, but added, "I also believe it is vital for
(Massachusetts) to have two voices speaking for the needs of its citizens and two votes in the Senate during the approximately five months between a vacancy and an election."

Kennedy asked the governor and state leaders to "amend the law through the normal legislative process to provide for a temporary gubernatorial appointment until the special election occurs."

The letter is dated July 2 but was not sent until August 19 - less than a week before Kennedy died.

Kennedy, who had been having conversations with several top state Democrats about a potential succession, was concerned that releasing the letter would disrupt intense and tumultuous Senate health-care negotiations, a source close to the senator said.

The only reason Kennedy sent the letter when he did was because the Boston Globe newspaper learned about the discussions and was prepared to print what he thought was an inaccurate account of his efforts, that source and another person close to Kennedy said. He therefore decided to make his desires clear by delivering the letter, knowing it would go public.

Kennedy has championed universal health care for years and wanted to make sure Democrats have the votes they may need for passage of a comprehensive bill.

He called the issue "the cause of his life," and hoped to see legislation that would "guarantee that every American will have decent, quality health care as a fundamental right," as he said at the 2008 Democratic Convention.

Democrats - who, in collaboration with Independent Sens. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Bernie Sanders of Vermont, now control 59 of the 99 occupied seats in the 100-member Senate - face a tough battle this fall on President Barack Obama's health-care reform package. They have been trying to calculate votes without Kennedy, who was unable to attend many sessions for months due to his illness.

Until 2004, Massachusetts law allowed the governor to appoint an immediate replacement in the event of a U.S. Senate vacancy. The heavily
Democratic legislature changed the law, however, after Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry became the likely Democratic presidential nominee - when Republican Mitt Romney was governor.

Critics charged the Democrats were trying to prevent Romney from replacing Kerry with a Republican in the event of a Kerry victory over
then-President George W. Bush.

It is not at all clear who will replace Edward "Ted" Kennedy in the seat he held since 1962. He died 15 months after being diagnosed with brain cancer.

His brother, the late President John F. Kennedy, had the seat for almost eight years before being elected to the White House in 1960.

The old law may have helped the seat stay in the family. When John Kennedy was elected president, Edward Kennedy was not yet old enough to be a senator. Kennedy family friend Benjamin Smith was appointed to the seat, but did not run in 1962 when John Kennedy's term expired - clearing the way for Edward Kennedy.

The seat may remain in Kennedy hands. Edward Kennedy's sons, Edward Kennedy Jr. and Rep. Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island, have been tipped as possible successors, as has his nephew, former Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy II.

His wife, Victoria Reggie Kennedy, has no interest in filling the seat, one of the sources said.

Kennedy was last re-elected in November 2006. His term runs until January 2013.

- CNN's Dana Bash and Martina Stewart contributed to this report.

Filed under: Massachusetts • Ted Kennedy
soundoff (60 Responses)
  1. gnouvo

    I knew he was ill, still I was shaken over the news of Senator Kennedy passing.

    My prayers of comfort to the family.

    August 26, 2009 03:49 pm at 3:49 pm |
  2. gary

    I'm sorry to see Sen Kennedy pass, he was a good compromiser. But an empty seat makes it more difficult for the Dems to force through their government option/ government controlled healthcare. We are broke and cannot afford another entitlement program. We want less government involved in our lives and in our healthcare, not more. The Democratic plan is bad and would make our health system worse, not better (I'm not a Republican I am registered non-partisan and vote both ways). Ironically, leaving open this seat and stopping bad healthcare reform may be Senator Kennedy's best legacy. God bless.

    August 26, 2009 04:00 pm at 4:00 pm |
  3. Karen

    Senator Kennedy did so much for the common people of the United States when he could have just spent his time sailing and doing the things he enjoyed. He leaves a great legacy. I just wish Obama would lose the elitist attitude and try to help the common people of this country. I am sure he has figured out a way to use Kennedy on the rush through health plan already.

    August 26, 2009 04:05 pm at 4:05 pm |
  4. marty

    If anyone in Mass. is concerned about the succession of an empty Senate seat, perhaps try the following. Let this seat be handled according to the current law and hold the special election. Then after that, change the law to allow for an appointed successor. That's the best way to handle this, but it is not the liberals way of handling it. They simply change laws to suit their immediate need, and forget about the future.

    August 26, 2009 04:06 pm at 4:06 pm |
  5. phoenix86

    "Kennedy's seat may remain empty for months."

    No matter, the seat has been empty for years.

    August 26, 2009 04:10 pm at 4:10 pm |
  6. awaitingliberalizationbyCNN

    OMG. The libs need to contact ACORN and the unions to find out how to steal another vote. When you are in trouble go to those with the most experience.

    August 26, 2009 04:10 pm at 4:10 pm |
  7. Ohio Annie

    Changing the law would be democratic and would allow Massachusetts to vote for improved health care–in honor of Senator Kennedy and consistent with the views of Massachusetts voters.

    August 26, 2009 04:14 pm at 4:14 pm |
  8. Dan Holiday

    So, when a republican was governor, the democrats asked that they make it so the governor could not appoint a replacement senator? Now that a democrat is governor they want it changed back? Hypocrisy much? This is absurd. Any liberal that thinks there is merit in this type of politics should do me a favor. Move out of my country. You are pert of the problem. Also, to those that post things such as "Republicans who are funded by the Major Insurance Companies", and "idiocy of the Republican hate machine" are so immature and childish. Name calling? Really? Hey I can do it too?…let's see…what can I write?… Oh, I know. Democrats love killing babies (wait, that won't work, it is true ). I got it. Democrats love to promote failure and punish success ( Wait, another truthful statement ). Democrats promote racism with policies such as affirmative action ( yet another truth ). Democrats love to be thrifty with your money and read every bill they pass….lol. Finally, I got it right! hahaha.

    August 26, 2009 04:20 pm at 4:20 pm |
  9. Sandy

    May the people of MS stay in peace

    August 26, 2009 04:21 pm at 4:21 pm |
  10. Denis

    I sure hope that they replace his seat quickly for now. Following that I hope the Healthcare bill is passed into law under his name as the "Edward Kennedy – American Healthcare Act". He deserves the honor for his dedication to the cause after so many years.

    August 26, 2009 04:23 pm at 4:23 pm |
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