Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Gov. Patrick Discovers The Law of Unintended Consequences

So which Democrat will Deval Patrick appoint to replace Ted Kennedy, should the senator be unable to serve?

Thanks to the Democrats of the Massachusetts legislature, the answer is: nobody.

Horrified by the possibility of Gov. Romney replacing John Kerry with a Republican in 2004, the Massachusetts legislature passed a bill stripping the governor of the power to make an interim appointment. The same legislature that hasn't been able to get rid of the "temporary" income tax hike in 20 years passed this new law in about 2 days. Gov. Romney vetoed it, the legislature overrode it...and Kerry lost.

As a result of that forward-thinking action by the legislature, Gov. Patrick is now denied the right to make any appointment, should Sen. Kennedy be forced to leave office. Instead, the state will hold a special election no sooner than 145 days and no later than 160 days of any vacancy.

So instead of a Patrick ally running as an incumbent, there will be a wide-open Democratic primary to replace Sen. Ted. According to a spokesperson in the Massachusetts Secretary of State's office, any primary would be held after the 145 day deadline, with a general election six weeks after that.

There's a long list of potential Democratic candidates: Rep. Ed Markey, AG Martha Coakley, former Congressman Joseph P. Kennedy II, perhaps former gubernatorial candidates Tom Reilly or Chris Gabrielli, and even Vicki (Mrs. Ted) Kennedy. Given the rarity of an open US Senate seat in Massachusetts, a big-time primary battle is almost certain.

[My colleague, Jim Braude, says that if a Kennedy runs, everyone else will step aside. Didn't they say the same thing about Hillary Clinton a year ago?]

This is significant because Gov. Patrick is struggling here in Massachusetts and he could use both an ally in Washington and a victory here at home. An interim appointment who went on to win the next election would give him both. Instead, the Mitt-o-phobia of Massachusetts Democrats leaves him with nothing.

Speaking of Mitt, Republicans can forget any hopes of another Romney bid for Kennedy's seat.
Not even Mitt's millions could win such a special election because:

a) this is a one-party state;
b) 2008 is a lousy year for Republicans;
c) there's no way the Lefties of Massachusetts are going to let Ted Kennedy's replacement be a Republican.

So best wishes to Sen. Kennedy and a speedy recovery.