Whispers build of change to special election rules

Hillary Chabot Power-hungry Bay State Democrats — eyeing another potential Senate opening if U.S. Sen. John F. Kerry joins the Obama Cabinet— are quietly discussing reinstating a 2004 law that would let Gov. Deval Patrick appoint a permanent replacement to help keep the seat under party control until at least 2014. “I think that would be preferable. It would certainly save the taxpayers money if they don’t have to pay for another election,” said Phil Johnston, former chairman of the Massachusetts Democratic Party. “I think people are campaigned out. I think the governor is very popular and most voters would be happy to support his choice until the next general election,” Johnston added. The current law triggers a special election within 160 days if Kerry accepts a long-anticipated post in President Obama’s Cabinet. Republican U.S. Sen. Scott Brown scored an upset win over his heavily favored Democratic opponent, Attorney General Martha Coakley, in the special election for the late U.S. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy’s seat. State Sen. Barry Finegold (D-Andover), who co-chairs the state Legislature’s election laws committee, said he has heard discussions about giving Patrick the power to appoint a permanent senator, adding he doesn’t support a change. “I have no interest in changing the law. I like it the way it is, and I think everyone should be able to run,” Finegold said. The move comes eight years after Democratic lawmakers stripped then-Gov. Mitt Romney of his appointment powers in an effort to keep Republicans out of the office, and three years after they changed the law again to let Patrick appoint a temporary replacement. Obama, a close friend of Patrick’s, was counting on Democratic senators to approve his health care reform law at the time. Talk of another change in the law outraged Republicans, who would essentially face an incumbent when they got their next shot at the seat in 2014.

“They don’t have any shame. They’ve already changed it twice,” said state Rep. Daniel Winslow (R-Norfolk), who has heard State House scuttlebutt about reinstating appointment power to Patrick. Richard Tisei, who served as the Senate minority leader when legislators first changed the law during Kerry’s 2004 presidential run, added: “It’s so obvious they do this for political advantage. Only in Massachusetts would they be able to get away with it.” A spokesman for House Speaker Robert DeLeo would say only, “The issue is not on the speaker’s radar at this time.” A spokesman for Senate President Therese Murray dismissed the idea, saying, “We’re not changing it.” If lawmakers don’t alter the current law, many expect Patrick to erase a precondition he set in 2009 and allow the temporary appointment to run for the seat in a special election.

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful