Following Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy's letter asking Massachusetts leaders to allow an immediate, temporary gubernatorial appointment to fill his soon-to-be vacant seat, Bay State legislators remain noncommittal about changing the state's succession law.
Current Massachusetts law requires a special election be held five months after a congressional vacancy. That means Kennedy's Senate seat would remain empty during the time between his death or resignation and an election.
In a joint statement, state Senate President Therese Murray and House Speaker Robert DeLeo praised Kennedy for "what he continues to do for our commonwealth and our nation" and express a shared desired that "he will continue to be a voice for the people of Massachusetts as long as he is able."
But neither has commented publicly on the prospect of taking up Kennedy's request in a legislative session.
Gov. Deval Patrick said in a statement today that "it's typical of Ted Kennedy to be thinking ahead and about the people of Massachusetts, when the rest of us are thinking about him," but went no further. Kennedy has been battling brain cancer for more than a year.
Patrick has supported a public vote to fill congressional vacancies but has also contemplated the case for an appointment. Last fall, he noted that more than 40 other states fill congressional vacancies by appointment; he has also previously cited the state's budget woes as one argument for foregoing a special election.
Secretary of State William Galvin, who oversees elections in Massachusetts, told the Associated Press that the law cannot be changed without debate, public hearings and a vote by the Legislature while meeting in formal session.
"This is not a change that could happen today," Galvin said.
Timing aside, changes to the succession law could pose political challenges for Massachusetts Democrats, who have majorities in both legislative chambers and hold the governorship.
"Many Democrats on Beacon Hill are reluctant to do what looks like a brazen power grab," said Susan Milligan of the The Boston Globe. "I don't think [amending the law] is a 'lock' at all."
Kennedy's request comes just five years after the Massachusetts legislature changed its succession law to require a special election instead of gubernatorial appointment to fill congressional vacancies – a change Kennedy supported.
In 2004, state Democrats implemented the new rules out of fear that then-Republican Gov. Mitt Romney would fill Democratic Sen. John Kerry's seat with a Republican should Kerry have been elected to the Presidency.
"Ted told me months ago that he thought the 2004 law was right to empower the people to choose their Senator," said Kennedy friend and colleague Sen. John Kerry. "But [he said it was] flawed because he doesn't believe that under any circumstances, now or ever, Massachusetts should have anything less than full representation in the United States Senate."
In his letter to Gov. Patrick, Kennedy stipulates that a "condition of appointment" for an interim Senator should be an "explicit personal commitment not to become a candidate in the special election" in order to preserve fairness.
Still, Republicans both in Massachusetts and Washington are crying foul.