Joan Vennochi has a typically well-written but surprisingly angry column in today's Boston Globe on Sen. Ted Kennedy's plea for a law allowing Democratic Gov. Patrick to appoint a replacement if (well, when) Kennedy dies in office. The replacement would serve for a few months, until a special election could be held. This law would partially reverse a 2004 law that was clearly designed to prevent Republican Gov. Mitt Romney from appointing a senator to serve for almost two years in the event that John Kerry was elected president.
Let's be honest. Ted Kennedy’s last wish is not about principle. It’s about politics.
He said it’s about giving Massachusetts voters a voice in Washington. But it’s really about giving Senate President Harry Reid 60 votes on health care reform.
And from there Vennochi only gets harsher:
From a political perspective, it shows how much President Obama and the Democrats have lost their way. They are so desperate, they must squeeze the last drop of power out of a dying man.
Kennedy is flexing his political muscle, to be sure, but this seems like a pretty mild use of force in the service of one of the most important legislative battles of the past 50 years. Venocchi calls it "desperate," but I'm pretty sure that every one of my political science professors from Boston University would prefer a term like "resourceful."
In fact, I'll wager that if the state Legislature refuses to pass a bill allowing for Kennedy's quick replacement and health care reform then fails in the US Senate by one vote, no reputable historian or political scientist will ever credit Beacon Hill leaders with standing on principle. Rather, they will examine three possible motives for the refusal:
- They wanted to kill federal health care reform.
- They wanted to embarrass Ted Kennedy.
- They wanted to embarrass Barack Obama.
It's also odd that Venocchi's column on "power politics" fails to mention that state Senate President Therese Murray, reportedly "cool" toward Kennedy's proposal, was a strong supporter of Hillary Clinton over Barack Obama in last year's presidential primary and was miffed by Kennedy's endorsement of Obama.
UPDATE: I forgot the fourth possible motive, which may actually be the most probable: Democratic legislative leaders, who have been feuding with Gov. Patrick for years, are loath to give him any new power; and Patrick, with approval ratings in the cellar, is afraid to ask for it.