Mass. Gov.: Appointing a Temporary Successor to Kennedy Is a ‘Reasonable Request’

By Lindsey Ellerson

Aug 27, 2009 9:55am

ABC News’ Lindsey Ellerson and Rick Klein report: Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick told Diane Sawyer on “Good Morning America” Thursday that he is considering complying with Sen. Ted Kennedy’s dying wish to appoint a temporary successor to the Liberal Lion’s Senate seat, calling it a “reasonable request.”

"I think that the senator’s made a very reasonable request,” said Patrick.  “I support the idea of a special election which is provided for in our current law and the senator did as well.  Now, having said that, I have to say that our first thoughts today are on the life and the extraordinary achievements of the senator.”

Under current Massachusetts law, Kennedy’s Senate seat would remain unoccupied until at least mid-January, at which point a special election to fill the position would be held.  However, a push is underway to change the law and allow the governor to make an interim appointment. 

The provision was instituted five years ago because of a legal change Democrats forced through to deny then-Gov. Mitt Romney, a Republican, the opportunity to choose a successor to Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., if he had won the 2004 presidency.

When asked about a potential Senate successor and whether Patrick would like to see a member of the Kennedy clan claim the seat, the governor refused to bite.

"Those are very personal decisions and you know, we’ve got such a, so much political talent in Massachusetts and have historically in the family and beyond,” said Patrick.  “I know there’s a lot of interest in this, in this seat, but again I think almost everybody who is interested in this seat and beyond is focused mainly right now on grieving the loss of a giant."

Possible candidates for the seat include Kennedy's widow, Vicki; the senator's nephew, Joe; Rep. Niki Tsongas, D-Mass., whose late husband once held Massachusetts' other Senate seat; the state's popular attorney general, Martha Coakley; and several veteran House members who've been waiting years or even decades for a chance to advance politically.

In addition to the vacuum Kennedy will leave in the political landscape of the country, Patrick reflected on the loss of a man with great character.

"There’s this extraordinary combination of larger than life personality and political accomplishments and a very down to earth quality,” said Patrick of the senator.

Kennedy was not afraid to ham it up.  Many a time his singing voice was caught on tape, with his colleague Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, on the campaign trail in 1994, alongside then-first lady Hillary Clinton, and most recently on the stump with then-Sen. Barack Obama.  Patrick remembers Kennedy, “late into the night over the dinner table singing show tunes or the impersonations that he would do of his colleagues in the Senate or in public life, which were absolutely hysterical if you got him at the right moment."

The Massachusetts governor first met Kennedy at the beginning of the Clinton administration when he was a finalist candidate for the U.S. attorney.

“I remember saying to him at the time that I didn’t expect to get the appointment, but that I knew that the path for me to be in that conversation was largely paved by his work and the life of his brothers, and I felt that and believed it,” said Patrick.
 
Kennedy’s legislative legacy has been widely recognized, but Patrick says it’s his “tenacity” that is most admirable. 
 
"Tenacity, you know, it’s not just any one of the extraordinary legislative outcomes in health care, in civil and human rights, in worker rights and disability rights and so forth and the minimum wage, it’s his commitment to the idea that as good as we are in America, we can be better,” said the governor.  “That vision of a better America was enough to keep him coming back over and over and over again to push that agenda forward and we are all, all of us the better for it."

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