Why Beacon Hill should support Senator Kennedy’s request: a vacancy of weeks, not months

Yesterday, the media reported that Senator Edward M. Kennedy has called for a change in Massachusetts law to ensure that their is no vacancy should his Senate seat become open.

At MassVOTE, we haven’t hesitated to wrangle with lawmakers when we have disagreed.  We fought former Speaker Tom Finneran over campaign finance reform and filed the federal redistricting lawsuit that ended his tenure.  Pushing election day registration for the past two years has won us many friends, but there are legislators of both parties as an unwelcome risk factor to their re-election campaigns.

MassVOTE cares about a strong democracy — which is exactly why we support this proposal.

Today, we are rolling out our support for Senator Edward Kennedy’s request that state leaders change the succession law to guarantee that Massachusetts will not lack a senator if his seat becomes vacant.

We call upon state legislators to change Massachusetts law to allow for an interim appointment before a special election.   We further agree with Senator Kennedy that should the law be changed, and if ever such an appointment should need to be made, we call on Governor Patrick to appoint a caretaker of upstanding character who will pledge not to run in the special election to follow.

  • At this critical time, the 3.1 million voters of Massachusetts — and our 6.5 million people — cannot be denied one of our two votes in the US Senate.
  • Allowing a vacancy to go unfilled for six months, as current law would have it, is unacceptable.  From climate change to the fixing the economy, the Senate faces important votes in the year ahead.  Massachusetts should not be limited to half of its fair say.
  • For many years, Massachusetts’ beloved senior senator has made the fight to make sure everyone has access to affordable, high-quality health care his signature issue.  Massachusetts legislators have a solemn responsibility to ensure that his legacy is not lost because of a vacancy.
  • In the recent past, Massachusetts has had two different succession laws, both with significant weaknesses.
  • First, state law called for the Governor to appoint a new senator to fill the open seat for the entire rest of the term.  That could deny the people a chance to vote, and mean that an unelected appointee could serve for a period as long as five years or more.
  • A few years ago, state lawmakers changed the law to call instead for a special election to be held within six months of the vacancy.  While this gives the people an essential chance to have an elected, rather than appointed, senator reasonably quickly, it denies Massachusetts its full voting strength in the US Senate for six months.
  • What Senator Kennedy has requested brings together the advantages of both prior laws: it prevents Massachusetts from having a vacancy by allowing a short-term, interim appointment; and it gives the people a chance to a free, fair election for the seat quickly.
  • We believe the senator’s suggested solution is a wise, permanent solution to the problem of vacant statewide seats.

    This is nothing any of us want to contemplate.   We want the our senior senator to return to health and continue his service.  And yet it is because we respect his work so much, and be because we know that his request is wise long-term policy, that the legislature should act on his request immediately.  


    Avi Green

    Executive Director


  • About avigreen

    • First, state law called for the Governor to appoint a new senator to fill the open seat for the entire rest of the term.  That could deny the people a chance to vote, and mean that an unelected appointee could serve for a period as long as five years or more.

      How long was it on the books?

    • the seat’s already been vacant for months.

      The Man should step down immediately so We the People can have full representation in the Senate.

    • Wasn’t the seat vacant for one year plus while Kerry ran for President. I’ve always wondered how pols like Kerry can justify getting paid for a job that he clearly was not doing. Novel concept!

    • Vote3rdpartynow

      Maybe Ted Kennedy shouldn’t have run for re election this past time.  If he was so concerned about proper representation in the US Senate from Massachusetts perhaps he should have stepped down and let someone else, someone younger, run for the office.

      I am a bit tired of seeing little old men who have been walking the hallowed halls of the US Senate and House of Representatives for 40 plus years.  If it isn’t Kennedy absent with brain cancer it is Robert Bird falling off his chair from old age at a lobbyist dinner.

      Here in Massachusetts we have a problem with 85 year old men driving through the front door of CVS and the local coffee shop – and yet we still elect people to the US Senate and allow them control of our finances, taxes, armed forces and education system.  What the hell is with that?  Too old to drive – too old to lead!

      Ted Kennedy asked the state to change the law 4 years ago so that it would screw Mitt Romney from appointing a replacement to John Kerry.  Now that the same laws might screw the Dems and their chance at forcing laws upon us they want to change it again.  No way.  

    • nomad943

      People traded away their voices for a block of cheese and a bus pass. All that we hear these days is an occasional grumble and the sound of this answering machine. Fortunatly I can make the sound of your voice go away by pressing this button …..

    • geo999

      The first two reasons you cite are redundant and hyperbolic. The people of The Commonwealth will not suffer a catastrophe should we find ourselves without one of our Senators for a short period of time. As has been ably noted elsewhere, we and the nation have survived quite well without them from time to time.

      Even if you allow (and I doubt you will) that the action taken by the legislature back in 2004 was contemptible and politically malevolent, it certainly does not justify an  expedient and nakedly partisan about face at this time, however cleverly couched it may be as a “permanent solution”.

      We shouldn’t be doctoring laws in this state just to win one for the gipper, however beloved he may be.


    • That any elected official would actually suggest a state legislature should AGAIN change a law because it may not favor his own party in the current political environment. Anyone who would manipulate the law in such a way shows contempt for the people they are supposed to serve and represent. But, what else can we expect from Ted Kennedy.

    • Knightbrigade


      but the leftwing BS bleeds through this post. Things such as “climate change” “beloved senior Senator” “legislators have a solemn responsibility to ensure that his legacy (REALLY!!??)is not lost”.

      Last time I looked legislators responsibilities were to look after the interests of the voters, NOT some manufactured pretend royalty.

      Again, nice spin so you Liberal/Dems can play the game of changing rules to suit your needs and control everything.

      Now let’s see if the VOTERS of MA. are dumb enough to buy it.  I make it 60/40 says NO…

    • mjf

      This was changed for partisan reasons five years ago.  This now falls in the “You made your bed, now lie in it” chapter.  Laws need to be upheld, it weakens all law if they are constantly meddled with to adjust to the direction of the wind.  I believe the current proposal was even suggested in 2004 and was rejected.

      And as has been previously mentioned, Sen Kennedy has already missed over a year.  If it was so important to him, he should have resigned his seat months ago.