A bill conceived by the late Senator Ted Kennedy and proposed to Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and top state legislators to amend the process by which vacancies in Massachusetts' Senate delegation are filled has passed overwhelmingly. The state Senate is expected to pass a similar bill in the days ahead, though some predict that Republicans in that chamber will likely stall the process.
Governor Patrick could sign the bill as early as Friday afternoon, with a replacement being sworn into office sometime early next week. Among the top candidates for the job is Michael Dukakis, the former Democratic governor and his party's nominee for the White House in 1988.
Since 2004, state law has provided for Senate vacancies to be filled within five months by means of a special election, with the seat remaining empty until a replacement is elected. Prior to that, the sitting governor had the power to appoint an interim Senator until the next Congressional election, which would mean that the temp could have remained in office for up to two years without facing election. However, the prospect of 2004 Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry vacating his seat to take the Oval Office- leaving then-Governor Mitt Romney the ability to appoint a fellow Republican to replace him- prompted state lawmakers to amend the system.
But Kennedy, fearing that his death might deprive Democrats of an imperative vote in the midst of an epic health care reform battle, urged officials to amend the law once more. He asked that the replacement still be chosen via special election, but that the governor be permitted to choose an interim Senator for the duration of the five-month campaign to avoid the state being underrepresented in the Senate. Kennedy argued that the spirit of the 2004 legislation remained intact- the people (not the governor) decide who represent them in the Senate in the long haul.