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. Jefe

    We need this law in Illinois, so we don't end up with another Roland Burris fiasco. A Senator is too important to just be appointed (not that we often get a chance to vote for a decent human being, but that's another story).

    Rest in Peace, Good Senator

    August 26, 2009 02:32 pm at 2:32 pm |
  2. bozo the obama

    finally i can raise my flag for the first time since January, and it will fly at full mast for a month and then back down.

    August 26, 2009 02:40 pm at 2:40 pm |
  3. Phil

    If the Dems are smart, they will leave the current law in place...the one they championed 5 years ago. If they move to change it, they are only going to sour the constituents and make re-elections even more difficult. If they do change it, it only will go to show how they cannot be the laws are re-arranged to fit "their" needs.

    August 26, 2009 02:40 pm at 2:40 pm |
  4. An Ardent supporter of the great hero of this country whose stamp appears on almost every legislation, the lion of the senate, from atlanta, Georgia

    We lost a great hero. My condolenses goes to the Kennedy family.
    I request to the state legislators of Massachussetts to change the law for the governor to replace with a temporary person. There should be nothing to fear from republicans, since the seat will remain Democratic as far as I know even if there is a special election, but it is critical in the mean time for the Great state of Massachussetts to be represented in the U. S. sentate as Sir Edward Kennedy indicated two weeks ago. The state legislators ought to amend the law immediately for the sake of representation so that the governor can appoint someone. All other states' governors make an appointment so does Massachussetts governor should.
    I know republicans will cry foul but they have nothing to gain from here as far as I am concerned. Let them make all the accusations but don't listen. All they want is to block Dems from getting the 60 vote, but that is not the point, it is a matter of represention.
    If the state legislators don't do any thing to change the law then let the massachussetts residents choose thier senator in a matter of weeks than months.
    Thanks and have a great day.

    August 26, 2009 02:43 pm at 2:43 pm |
  5. JK Ashburn, VA

    The Dems played games when Romney was governor and might have had to name a replacement for Kerry if he got elected president in 2004. Now their game playing has come back to bite them in the butt. What a pity! NOT!

    August 26, 2009 02:43 pm at 2:43 pm |
  6. Kevin in Ohio

    For once, lets see if the democrats can avoid resorting to their dirty political tricks.

    August 26, 2009 02:44 pm at 2:44 pm |
  7. Sniffit

    Raise your hand if you believe Romney would have appointed a Democrat to the senate seat vacated by Kerry as would quite obviously have been the most accurate representation of the will of the MA voting public.

    Now, if you raised your hand, take that hand and use it to pull your head out of your....

    The only reason for anyone to complain about this law changing to allow appointment of an interim Senator would be because you're a GOPer hoping to cash in on Kennedy's death in the health care issue.

    August 26, 2009 02:45 pm at 2:45 pm |
  8. Joyce from South Carolina

    The people of Massachusetts have a right to elect a successor to Ted Kennedy, but they also have a right to have 2 Senators vote in the Senate. The governor should appoint an interim person to his seat while the election takes place. In my humble opinion, we should have a Federal Law that all states would have to agree to. If a Senate seat is unfilled, governors appoint someone to fill the vacancy until a special election takes place. What happened in Minnesota was a joke.

    August 26, 2009 02:51 pm at 2:51 pm |
  9. I am The Great and Powerful Wizard of Rush

    I hope Barney Frank is the next Senator from Mass.
    I love the sight of RebirtherTea Party heads exploding.

    August 26, 2009 02:51 pm at 2:51 pm |
  10. Dave in Illinois

    Based on Kennedy's apparent desires, I think the law should be changed to do away with both the special election and the governor's appointment. It should become an inherited title that is passed down from generation to generation in the Kennedy family. Either that or have it done like we do in Illinois where the highest bidder wins.

    The above comment may seem crass but I think Senator Kennedy's last minute attempt to change the succesion laws could become a footnote on his career that belittle's his tenure in the Senate.

    August 26, 2009 02:51 pm at 2:51 pm |
  11. An Ardent supporter of the great hero of this country whose stamp appears on almost every legislation, the lion of the senate, from atlanta, Georgia

    Philly said, "Funny. He fought to have MA laws passed the "special election" when Romney was a governor. Now he wanted the other way around. RIP."
    Well Philly, you know what, that seat will be in Democratic hands no matter what and no matter how you and your republican cronies cry foul over something that is clearly ungainable for republicans/rush's people.
    Republicans have no hope over this seat you know it and they know it. It is a matter of representaion in order for the Great state of Massachussetts to have two senators at the same time and be represented immediately. I know Republicans do everything to block that seat from the governor appointing somebody replace for the sake that they anticipate Dems will not have the sixtieth vote for important legislations that is making it is way throught the legislative process such as health care.
    I say to MA voters to urge thier state representatives to amend the law for the governor to appoint somebody until that special election even if it is two months away.

    August 26, 2009 02:52 pm at 2:52 pm |
  12. Judy

    It should be up to the people of Massachusetts to decide who will be their next senator, even if it takes 6 months. I am not sure why Senator Kennedy thought that the law should be changed once again to suit his needs. A career politician is not above the law. Regardless of my political differences I offer my condolensces to his family.

    August 26, 2009 02:57 pm at 2:57 pm |
  13. Rose

    I don't see the urgency to fill his seat, he was gone for much of a year anyway. Changing the law is NOT the right thing to do just to suit the Dems agenda. He was a truly great Senator but there are limits of what the Kennedys should get away with.

    August 26, 2009 02:57 pm at 2:57 pm |
  14. jeff jackson, alabama

    As a conservative Republican I can say this with
    little hesitation.
    I did not agree with some of his idealogy. He was also
    able to skate through some ordeals in his personal life
    I don't think the average American would have been
    allowed to skate through.
    But all said and done I also believe he was one of a
    very few liberals who put his country ahead of his party.
    I can't remember when a Kennedy wasn't in some sort
    of national public office. This is certainly the end of a
    political era in most American adult's lives. He definitely
    was not afraid of hard work. R.I.P.

    August 26, 2009 02:57 pm at 2:57 pm |
  15. O in MA

    MA is blue state. The law was changed because there were enough state reps who supported it. It will change again because there are enough state reps (and citizens) who support it. Is fair? Probably not. Is democratic? Yes.

    August 26, 2009 03:00 pm at 3:00 pm |
  16. single mom

    This is poetic justice. Hoisted on their own petard. To try to change the law now would be hypocrisy and dishonor a lifetime of work.

    While I disagreed with much of Senator Kennedy's policies, I respected him for his passion and dedication to the people he represented.

    My condolences to the Kennedy clan.

    August 26, 2009 03:02 pm at 3:02 pm |
  17. rr

    "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."

    If Patrick Kennedy is a rep in Rhode Island, how is he going to run for Senator from Massachusettes? Do Joe Jr, and Ed Jr live in Mass?

    Does Massachusettes wish they had a monarchy, so one family could rule politics there?

    August 26, 2009 03:10 pm at 3:10 pm |
  18. Jane/Seattle

    This is not good. We need the majority in the Seanate ASAP.

    August 26, 2009 03:10 pm at 3:10 pm |

    How about the Governor appoint a moderate Republican for the interim, with the understanding that they cant run in the special election. That seems the fairest way to have representation without looking like a bunch of hypocrites

    August 26, 2009 03:21 pm at 3:21 pm |
  20. Change the law

    Oh, you hypocrites, give it a rest for once. If the shoe were on the other foot you'd be wetting yourselves in your eagerness to change the law and blasting anyone standing in your way.

    Please Mass., change the law, quickly. Those of us trapped in the dark ages of the Red States are counting on your representatives and your votes.

    August 26, 2009 03:25 pm at 3:25 pm |
  21. Ram

    Kennedy did a lot of good and bad things for the country, but I bet he did not receive any end of life counseling in the last year to see if he was worth the amount spent on him.

    August 26, 2009 03:27 pm at 3:27 pm |
  22. Dennis

    Maybe they can just change the law so it says Democrat governors can appoint an interim Senator, but if the governor is Republican, then there must be a special election. That way they won't have to keep changing the law to suit theeir purpose.

    August 26, 2009 03:35 pm at 3:35 pm |

    Do you really think the People of MA Wants a Republican to replace Sen Kennedy? DREAM ON!

    August 26, 2009 03:36 pm at 3:36 pm |
  24. Jaxspike

    Massachusett evidently believes in shady politics and not the law.

    Laws should not be changed just to suit a political party agenda whenever they want . . . it only makes the party look less respectable when they change the law back and forth to suit their needs. I seriously doubt it will hurt them to wait a few months until an election to fill the seat. Quit pulling these shady political moves and do what is right!

    August 26, 2009 03:37 pm at 3:37 pm |
  25. bozo the obama

    typical liberals-kennedy has the law changed when Romney was Gov. now that it doesn't work in his favor, he tried to change back...even before his death he was BAD for America...hasta la bye-bye

    August 26, 2009 03:47 pm at 3:47 pm |
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