With the Massachusetts legislature moving closer to passage of a bill that would allow Democratic Governor Deval Patrick to appoint a temporary replacement for the recently-deceased Ted Kennedy until a special election can be held in early 2010, one man's name is coming up a lot more often than others.
Michael Dukakis, the former Governor of Massacusetts (1975-1979, and again from 1983-1991), was the Democratic Party's nominee for President of the United States in 1988, but lost in what would turn out to be a landslide to then-incumbet Vice President George H.W. Bush (Bush would take 40 of 50 states and a 7.8% advantage in the popular vote - a voting margin slightly larger than the one Barack Obama managed over John McCain 20 years later).
In recent months, he's emerged as a top candidate for the opening in Massachusetts. The Boston Globe reports today that Dukakis, introduced as "Senator Dukakis" at a recent event, did nothing to dispell speclation that he'd be appointed, instead just grinning widely and looking down. When asked for comment, he declined. When asked why he had no comment, the typically gregarious Governor replied, "Because I don't want to comment." Sounds an awful lot like someone who's more than just "in the running" for the job.
In his final weeks, Senator Kennedy- fearing that his death might deprive Democrats of an imperative vote in the health care reform fight- wrote a letter to Governor Patrick and the leaders of both chambers of the state legislature to urge them to pass a law that would allow the sitting governor- in the event of a vacancy- to appoint an interim Senator rather than allowing the seat to remain vacant until a special election could be held. That interim replacement would be barred from running in the special election.
The proposal was met with lukewarm support initially, primarily because it was seen by many to directly refute the purpose of a previous bill passed in 2004- when it was possible that the election of Massachusetts's other Senator, John Kerry, might give then-Republican Governor Mitt Romney the ability to choose a fellow GOPer to fill the seat. The legislature overwhelmingly passed the bill, claiming that it was more democratic for direct election than to simply permit a Governor to choose a new Senator with whom the state would be stuck for up to two years.
Kennedy argued that this change didn't violate the spirit of the 2004 legislation, but rather that it simply added to it. The electorate still chooses its permanent Senator, but avoids a period of underrepresentation during the spell between the vacancy and the special election.
Today, Massachusetts looks close to passing the bill, with Governor Patrick noting that an interim could be appointed by the middle of next week.
Dukakis makes somewhat of a perfect pick. He's an old-hand when it comes to national politics, and a well-known one at that. It likely wouldn't take much of a "getting-to-know-you" period for Dukakis to get acclamated. Moreover, Patrick and national Democrats can be sure that Dukakis, an unabashed liberal much in the style of the "Lion of the Senate" himself, would be a reliable voice on healthcare. And with no electotal battle to fight (as he's barred under the Kennedy plan), he'd be free form many of the political pressures that burden other members.
But most importantly, the appointment is likely a dead-end, and Dukakis has given no indication that he's planning a poltiical comeback. Other Massachusetts Democrats would be highly resistant to giving up their current jobs to take a seat they could only hold for a few months. But for Dukakis, whose career has already been forged, there is no political ground to lose.
In Patrick's case, there probably isn't anyone who could be argued to be more qualified. Highly familiar with the state's needs, he spent 12 years as governor and another 8 as a state legislator.
Should Dukakis receive the appointment, he'd be just the second non-Kennedy to hold the seat in more than half a century, since John Kennedy took office in 1953. The other was Benjamin Smith, a Harvard roommate of JFK, who held the seat for the two years between Jack's election to the presidency and Ted's reaching of 30 years of age, the minimum age for a US Senator.