With the Massachusetts Legislature approving a bill today that would allow an interim senator to fill the seat vacated by the death of US Senator Edward M. Kennedy, all eyes are turning to Governor Deval Patrick.
The man of the moment: Patrick
The Democratic governor plans to sign the bill and could name an appointee as early as Thursday or Friday, sending a second Massachusetts senator to Washington at a time the national debate on health care is heating up.
The interim appointee proposal was enacted this afternoon by the House, 95-59, and by the Senate, 24-16, after only brief speeches by lawmakers. Lawmakers did not pass, however, an emergency preamble to the law, meaning that the governor will have to send a letter to the secretary of state requesting early implementation of the law.
Supporters have said the state needs two senators in Washington when crucial issues are being debated, including President Obama's health care reforms. Critics, who included the small contingent of Republicans in the Legislature, argued that the move was hypocritical, pointing out that the Legislature rejected the same proposal when the governor was a Republican.
“We did everything we could and there’s no need to delay for the sake of delay at this point,” Senate Minority Leader Richard Tisei told reporters after the Senate vote. “The vote’s been cast, and I hope the governor picks somebody who can represent the state well for the next couple of months.”
The interim senator appointed by Patrick would serve until voters elect a new senator in a Jan. 19 special election. A number of candidates are already running in the special election. Whoever is elected would serve the remaining three years of Kennedy’s term.
As Patrick mulls who to appoint, he will be weighing, among other things, the wishes of the Kennedy family.
Kennedy’s widow, Victoria Reggie Kennedy, has told the governor that she prefers former Democratic National Committee chairman Paul G. Kirk Jr. for the appointment, a Kennedy family associate said today.
The Kennedys are backing Paul Kirk
The Globe reported this morning that Kennedy’s two sons, US Representative Patrick J. Kennedy of Rhode Island and businessman Edward M. Kennedy Jr., have also told Patrick that Kirk, a long-time Kennedy friend and former staffer, is their first choice.
Kirk, a 71-year-old attorney who lives on Cape Cod, is seen as a top choice because of his ties to the Kennedy family and his deep knowledge of Washington politics. He worked as a special assistant to Kennedy from 1969 to 1977, and is currently the chairman of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation. Last month, he served as master of ceremonies at a widely watched memorial service the night before Kennedy’s funeral.
Kirk is also familiar with many on Kennedy’s former staff, and could help smooth the transition. Kennedy’s office is in the process of being shut down, and his former staff will be taken off the payroll in about four weeks. They have not been able to do any work aside from closing the office, and getting a new senator in place could allow them to start operating again.
Potential candidates for the appointment are filling out vetting forms that include financial disclosures, according to a person familiar with the process. Former Governor Michael Dukakis is among those submitting the form, the person said.
Among the other names frequently mentioned by observers are Harvard Law School professor Charles J. Ogletree, and former lieutenant governor Evelyn Murphy.
It is Dukakis’s name that has received the most widespread attention so far, with some Democrats privately pushing for his appointment, others anxious over how he might be received by the general public, and Republicans nearly gleeful as they contemplate his political resurrection.
Patrick has been weighing the appointment options with a close circle of advisers in recent days, asking them to cast a wide net that goes beyond the names that have been floated publicly, according to a person with knowledge of the process who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the discussions. It has been an “extensive vetting process,’’ the person said.
Martin Finucane of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Matt Viser can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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