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. arizona family

    may he rest in peace...

    August 26, 2009 01:45 pm at 1:45 pm |
  2. Hugo

    Hey, this could be the Obama Administrations saving grace on the healthcare bill. Now, they can scurry back from the issue using the phillibuster as their excuse for being so ill equipped to adequately deal with the true issues. I guess it is the end of Camelot for the Kennedy's but not to worry we will now have Cramalot under the Obama's!

    August 26, 2009 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
  3. Chris - Seattle

    I'm venturing a guess here, but I'd say he wanted health care reform w/public option to pass and felt that this action by Massachusetts to immediately fill his seat would help this get approved. What will probably happen and the republicans are probably chomping at the bit over this, is America and it's 19th century mentallity will continue to demean the public option and if/when it fails Uncle Teddy will probably turn over in his grave. R.I.P. Senator Kennedy, you'll be missed by millions!

    August 26, 2009 01:48 pm at 1:48 pm |
  4. Idiot_Pelosi

    Let's see.

    Ted Kennedy wanted the special election for replacement when there was a Republican GOV and he was worried (foolishly) that John Kerry would win the Presidential Election.

    Now, with a DEM GOV, he wanted to change the laws that he helped to enact.

    Typical Kennedy, change the rules to fit your current needs.

    August 26, 2009 01:51 pm at 1:51 pm |
  5. Idiot_Pelosi


    This senate seat has been mentally empty for a decade.

    August 26, 2009 01:51 pm at 1:51 pm |
  6. annie s

    Please, please, please do everything possible to schedule the special election promptly. We must have a strong voice for health care reform to finish Senator Kennedy's term – and his life's work.

    August 26, 2009 01:52 pm at 1:52 pm |

    Just like the Dems to try top change laws in their favor, just shows how big of CHEATERS the Dems are. Look at the TAX CHEATS in Obama's administration.

    August 26, 2009 01:55 pm at 1:55 pm |
  8. John Kwon

    I find it rather funny that Mr. Kennedy was lobbying to get a law that's been in existence for some time, changed for his party's benefit just prior to his ultimate demise. Apparently the law was just fine until it impacted him and his party. I by the sword.........die by the sword. He wanted the governor of his state to "appoint" a replacement. Now........just what party do you think that appointed person would be affiliated with? Go ahead.............take a wild guess. Just another no good politican trying to change the rules to benefit himself and his party. Wow............and we're all suppose to lie down and worship the late Ted Kennedy. Not this guy. A wolf by any other name is still a wolf.

    August 26, 2009 01:57 pm at 1:57 pm |
  9. Bob

    I suppose if the Democrats had not changed the law back in 2004 for not allowong a Governor to appoint a Senator there would be no problem today.

    August 26, 2009 01:57 pm at 1:57 pm |
  10. Dennis

    At least one less liberal vote. Not a bad thing. See what happens when you pass legislation for a particular circumstance?

    August 26, 2009 02:03 pm at 2:03 pm |
  11. Rick CT

    If the Mass Dems have any integrity whatsoever, they leave the current law in place – after all they created this change for purely political purposes. Ted Kennedy should have realized this in his request – he knew that his one-party state would likely kow tow to his request. Bet he wouldn't have made the request if Mitt Romney was still governor – that would have been the true test of his integrity and sincerity of having "two voices" speak for MA in the Senate.

    Sorry, but this is pure politics to the very end.

    August 26, 2009 02:04 pm at 2:04 pm |
  12. Rob

    If a special election was good enough in 2004, it's good enough now. Irregardless of the events of today, he was championing a process that he said in 2004 was just wrong. Oh wait, that's right, a Dem is governor, so that made it alright in his eyes.

    While death is always said, this was just another example of how Dems always bend/break rules to fit their interests.

    August 26, 2009 02:04 pm at 2:04 pm |
  13. Bluebonnet

    Well, thank you Mr. Kennedy.

    August 26, 2009 02:06 pm at 2:06 pm |
  14. Nathaniel C.

    You have to love the double standard: the Massachusetts Assembly rushed to take the right of replacement away from the governor when it was possible that (Republican) Mitt Romney might have to replace (Democrat) John Kerry, but now that they have a Democrat as governor, they're all for giving the right of replacement back to him.

    August 26, 2009 02:07 pm at 2:07 pm |
  15. Johnny DC

    Ironic that Senator Kennedy's "lifelong pursuit" of health care reform may very well be defeated because he was unwilling to relinquish his political position at such an old age.

    Rather than adjust the rules of appointment after learning of his terminal illness, perhaps he should have used foresight and acknowledged that men of his age and condition should probably not be seeking 6-year reelections.

    It would have better served his cause, if that cause truly mattered to him above legacy.

    August 26, 2009 02:07 pm at 2:07 pm |
  16. Shari, NY

    As quoted: "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".

    Ted Kennedy must have had an inkling that his days were coming to an end.

    August 26, 2009 02:07 pm at 2:07 pm |
  17. vic nashville , Tn

    His seat may empty for months but he is in our heart he fight for health care reform he fight for no child left behind

    August 26, 2009 02:08 pm at 2:08 pm |
  18. Steve, New York City

    Today is the day to forget about politics, and to mourn the loss of one of America's most dedicated public servants.

    August 26, 2009 02:09 pm at 2:09 pm |
  19. Philly

    Funny. He fought to have MA laws passed the "special election" when Romney was a governor. Now he wanted the other way around. RIP.

    August 26, 2009 02:16 pm at 2:16 pm |
  20. Dave

    Guess the Dem's should not have changed the law back in 2004 to a special election when Mitch Romney was Gov. Now with a Dem Gov, they want to change the law again to allow the Gov to appoint the late great Teddy successor.

    Don't ruin Senator Kennedy's legacy with such a cheap trick – Senator Kennedy was a great Senator and one of the very few good men serving in Congress. I am a conservative Republican and wish Teddy could have served forever. RIP Senator and you deserve all the praise is coming to you from all of America and more !!!!!

    August 26, 2009 02:17 pm at 2:17 pm |
  21. demwit

    The rules Kennedy championed under a Republican governor now come back to bite him in death. The Kennedy Karma continues...

    August 26, 2009 02:18 pm at 2:18 pm |
  22. Steph

    As much as I'd like to see health care legislation pass, I can't condone the constant changing of state law just to meet the MA Democrat's needs. They should have never changed the law in the first place.

    It is truly unfortunate, and I hope some moderate Republicans realize that health care reform is needed.

    August 26, 2009 02:22 pm at 2:22 pm |
  23. DJ in TX

    As much as I respected Senator Kennedy, the politics after his untimely death will take center stage. I'm sure the GOP will do everything in its power to keep the status quo on the MA law. It is sad, however that our politics has come to this.

    We cringed at the Iranian election. We wait on the Afghan election results. But we need to take a look at ourselves. The way we conduct politics in this country is horrible. We spend so much time protecting ideology vs actually working for the American people (that's on both sides) that nothing gets done.

    It will do a disservice to a dedicated public servant, who was a liberal, but respected all, and reached across the aisle to get things done. RIP

    August 26, 2009 02:27 pm at 2:27 pm |
  24. JerseyMike

    If the democrats try to change laws to suit their agendas that is truly a shame and I would have hoped against everything Senator Kennedy stood for. You can't make up rules as you go to suit your agendas.

    August 26, 2009 02:31 pm at 2:31 pm |
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