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Should the governor appoint a new senator? | Bradley H. Jones Jr.

Don’t change rules mid-game

By Bradley H. Jones Jr.
August 30, 2009

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LOVE OF sports and politics runs deep in Massachusetts. And if I said that the rules of the game for the Boston Red Sox should be changed after the first pitch or for the New England Patriots after the opening kickoff, I would be run out of town on the nearest rail.

The same principle should apply with regard to filling our vacant seat in the United States Senate: Do not change the rules in the middle of the game. While the Commonwealth continues to mourn the loss of Senator Edward Kennedy, a debate is swirling on Beacon Hill about altering the law most recently changed in 2004. Five years ago, when it seemed that Republican Governor Mitt Romney might get an appointment to fill Senator John Kerry’s seat, the Democratic House and Senate hastily passed a law stripping the governor of the appointment power. They did so, ostensibly, in the name of democracy and letting the voters choose.

As a recent Globe editorial acknowledged, “Everyone already knows that blatant politics compelled the Legislature’s Democratic majority to create this mess in 2004.” The Legislature did so at the urging of Senator Kennedy. We should not compound that mess by again changing the rules for personal, philosophical, or partisan interest.

Five years ago, I led legislative Republicans in making the argument that, by not providing the governor with an opportunity to appoint an interim replacement, the people of Massachusetts would not effectively be represented in the US Senate. We advanced that argument numerous times and offered amendments that would allow for both interim representation and a special election. Each instance fell on the deaf ears of a Democratic majority intent on having its way without regard to reason or the best interests of the Commonwealth.

Dozens of times throughout our nation’s history, US Senate seats have become vacant due to illness, accident, or resignation. Yet those pleas were ignored. Most recently in 2006 - with no vacancy looming and Governor Romney on the way out the door - the Democratic majority again rejected the very idea advanced just this month by Senator Kennedy of an interim appointment pending the outcome of a special election.

Three years later, some Democrats want to flip-flop and change the law again out of partisan interest, not principled belief. I continue to see merit in allowing for an interim appointment to fill a vacancy until a special election - but only when we do so without consideration of who is in the corner office, the balance of power in Washington, or the issue of the day in Congress.

Senator Kennedy’s death a few short days ago started a process under the law embraced by the majority in 2004. That law requires the governor to immediately schedule a special election not later than 160 nor less than 145 days from the date the seat became vacant. Any change to the law now would be to change the rules in the middle of the game - and should be something any self-respecting Massachusetts politician - or sports fan - should oppose.

Representative Bradley H. Jones Jr., Republican of North Reading, is the House minority leader.

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