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Proposal would let voters fill Senate vacancies

Feingold blasts 'relic' of history

By Jim Abrams
Associated Press / March 12, 2009
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WASHINGTON - Following tumultuous turnovers in Illinois and New York, lawmakers yesterday asked whether it was time to change the Constitution so that voters, rather than state governors, fill Senate vacancies.

Appointments by governors, said Senator Russ Feingold, a Wisconsin Democrat, "are an unfortunate relic" of the first century of the nation's history, when senators were picked by state legislatures. Feingold, a chief sponsor of a proposed constitutional amendment requiring elections to fill vacancies, spoke at a joint House-Senate hearing on the proposal.

Gubernatorial appointments have gained attention this year with the departures of four senators after the election: President Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

Former governor Rod Blagojevich of Illinois was ousted from office and faces criminal charges for allegedly trying to profit from his naming of Obama's replacement, while Governor David Paterson of New York, before picking Representative Kirsten Gillibrand to replace Clinton, became embroiled in the highly publicized and ultimately unsuccessful lobbying effort by Caroline Kennedy to get the job.

In Delaware, Governor Ruth Ann Minner named longtime Biden aide Ted Kaufman with the understanding that he would not run in a special election in 2010, opening the way for Biden's son Beau to succeed him.

In Colorado, Democratic Governor Bill Ritter named former Denver Public Schools Superintendent Michael Bennet to the Senate, even though Bennet had never held elective office. Republicans proposed changing to special elections, but a state Senate panel killed the bill on a party-line vote. Bennet replaced Salazar. Supporters of the amendment said it would perfect the 17th Amendment to the Constitution, ratified in 1913, that requires direct election of senators.

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