Governor Deval Patrick continued today to press for a change to state law to allow him to appoint an interim replacement for Senator Edward M. Kennedy as he announced that a special election for the seat will be held on Jan. 19.
Governor Deval Patrick
At a press conference carried live nationally on CSPAN, Patrick told reporters that he has discussed the potential change in law with state legislative leaders "numerous times over the last several days" and they are "moving as fast as they can." A legislative committee announced earlier today that it will hold a hearing next week on a bill that would allow Patrick to appoint a temporary replacement, a signal that Beacon Hill is moving to accommodate Kennedy's request that Massachusetts maintain two voices in the Senate.
"I think they are trying to work their way through it and they are talking to their members and listening to their members. I don't think by any means it is a certainty that it will happen, at least in my conversations with them," Patrick said, referring to legislative leaders. "I think that they are trying to find a path from here to there to honor, as I say, the very reasonable request of Senator Kennedy."
State statute calls for an election to be held on a Tuesday between 145 and 160 days after a vacancy occurs, which gave Patrick just two potential dates, Jan. 19 or Jan. 26. The governor said today that he did his best to select a date that would lessen the impact on the holidays between the primary and general election.
"It seemed to me that would be by having the earlier primary," Patrick said.
Secretary of State William Galvin released a full calendar for the special election, which will have a primary on Dec. 8. If the special election had been held on Jan. 26, the primary would have been Dec. 15.
At this afternoon's press conference, Patrick declined to discuss potential interim appointees should the law be changed, although he did say he has spoken with the senator's widow, Victoria Reggie Kennedy.
"Mrs. Kennedy is not interested in the position" of interim senator, Patrick said. The governor would not be specific, however, when asked whether she indicated whether she would run in the special election for her husband's former seat.
Asked whether he would run for the seat, Patrick chuckled.
"Myself? No, I've got a job," Patrick said. "I will not seek the position. No, thank you very much. I'm running for reelection as governor."
The chairmen of the Legislature's Joint Committee on Election Laws announced earlier today they have moved the hearing date from early October to Sept. 9 for a bill that would allow Patrick to appoint an interim senator. The House and Senate, which are in summer recess, do not return in full formal session until next week. The bill could come to the floor of both the House and Senate within days after the hearing.
''One of the senator's last public acts was a request that the Legislature explore ways to amend state law so the Commonwealth will not lose a voice in the United States Senate pending the filling of the seat with a special election,'' said state Senator Thomas P. Kennedy, a Brockton Democrat, the Senate chairman of the election laws committee. (He is not related to Edward Kennedy.)
The move to change the date of the hearing comes as lawmakers continue to wrestle with the controversial issue of allowing Patrick to make the temporary appointment. Democrats, including US Senate majority leader Harry Reid, argue that Massachusetts should be fully represented with two votes in the Senate when such issues as health care reform and climate change come up this fall.
Patrick told reporters today that he has spoken to Reid -- but not President Obama -- about the move to change state law to allow for an interim senator.
"Massachusetts needs two voices in the United States Senate at any time but particularly now with the gravity of the issues," Patrick said.
Republicans charge that the Democrats are trying to make a political power play. In 2004, the Democratically controlled Legislature took the power to fill a vacant Senate away from then-governor Mitt Romney, because lawmakers did not want him to have the chance, in the event Senator John F. Kerry won the presidency, to fill his seat with a Republican.
On the beat
Columnist Adrian Walker says UMass Dartmouth is shaken after revelations that one of the Marathon bomb suspects was a student there. Read more