In 2004, Massachusetts changed its laws to prevent Republican Mitt Romney from appointing John Kerry’s replacement in case he became President. Now it’s 2009, the Governor of Massachusetts is a Democrat, and Ted Kennedy is dead so the state legislature is considering changing the rule back so that Deval Patrick can appoint an interim Senator to serve in Kennedy’s place.
This is being described in some quarters as “hypocritical,” which really strikes me as silly. The underlying principle here is that the outcome of senatorial vacancies should reflect the underlying preferences of the people of Massachusetts. You could imagine a different state in which the parties are much more competitive in which this bobbing and weaving really was nothing more than a transient majority in the state legislature entrenching its power. But does anyone seriously dispute that the Massachusetts electorate prefers (a) to be represented in the U.S. Senate and (b) congressional Democrats? It’s been over ten years since the Bay State sent a Republican to Congress, and the last Republican Senator lost in 1978.
Probably there should be a uniform national system for filling senate vacancies. But instead, we leave it up to state legislatures. Given that legislatures have been granted this discretion, it would be perverse of them to refuse to actually use it when doing so is crucial to advancing what their constituents want.