Sunday, December 21, 2008

On Senate succession

As the recent Caroline Kennedy and Rod Blagojevich sagas illustrate, there's a huge problem with the laws regarding Senate succession in many states.

I have an issue with a single person having the power to appoint the successor to a Senator should he or she leave office before the end of their term. In relation to the national political landscape, it can have a profound effect on the balance of the Senate. When the will of the people can be easily subverted by the vote of just one governor, we need to take a long look at how to fix the problem.

This isn't simply a problem for Democrats. There are currently 58 Democratic senators; actually 59, since the Minnesota recount is almost definitely going to Franken. Should a Republican senator leave office in a state with a Democratic governor, the vote of just one person would create a super-majority in the Senate and have far reaching implications until the next general election. It wouldn't matter if the departing senator won by a landslide, it's up to the will of the governor who to appoint, even himself.

Plus, as Blagojevich shows, the possibility of corruption may unduly influence the decision.

With Caroline Kennedy, you have a recently ascended NY Governor who is being put in a very difficult position. The Kennedy name is very influential, and David Paterson may conceivably risk his future political health if he doesn't present Ms. Kennedy with the seat, even though she's never even campaigned for public office, let alone served in an elected position. She is completely unvetted in the traditional sense, such as campaigning for the requisite 18-24 months to gain the opportunity to be placed on the ballot. She hasn't even had a press conference yet, unless you consider her one-sentence statement last week with no questions allowed to be a press conference.

I've always been in favor of total Democracy. Anything that puts the power into the hands of the people when filling vacant seats is a good thing. I think we need to examine the laws regarding succession of this national office, and pass some sort of law that requires a special election within a reasonable amount of time, perhaps no more than 60-120 days after the office becomes vacant. If a primary is needed, a month or so would be minimally enough to at the very least introduce the candidates to the public.

The point is, while there's no simple solution to this, ANYTHING is better than the decision being made by just one vote, without recourse, cast by a single person.


Authentic Connecticut Republican said...

Given the amount of punch the Kennedy name has, plus the fact that it's Caroline herself who I suspect would be easily the Kennedy held in the highest regard - she could win a special election.

She could probably do it spending less than anyone else too.

Right, wrong, and logic are of no relevance.
It's just how it is.

Politics aside; considering the amount of tragedy she's seen in her life, if she's inclined to serve at this time she deserves at least some amount of respect for that alone.

I doubt I'd agree politically with her on much of anything; but she certainly has my respect as a substantial woman that's not only a survivor; but one that by all accounts has done so while maintaining a positive outlook.

God Bless her.

CT Bob said...

Indeed. I think Caroline Kennedy is a solid Democrat in the tradition of the Kennedy political lineage. And she does carry herself with remarkable class despite the tragedies she's endured in her life. I saw her speak at the Obama rally in Hartford back in February and was impressed by her speaking style.

But it gets back to my original concern (and it's just a concern, not something I'm going to lose sleep worrying about) that someone shouldn't be awarded a seat simply because of who their father, uncles, or brothers are or were. If her name wasn't Kennedy, would she even be considered for the seat?

I would really prefer there were a democratic way to select the person who gets to occupy one of the 100 most important political seats in the nation when they become available like that.

But yeah, it wouldn't kill me if she ended up as the next senator from New York. She seems like a reasonably competent person who has every chance of doing a decent job of it.

Bob Symmes said...

It should be pointed out that for most of our history, Senators were chosen by the state legislatures; not until the 17th Amendment in 1913, were Senators elected by the people.

And while the original, less democratic system produced such giants as Clay, Calhoun, Webster, Benton, etc., it also undoubtably was rife with the same corruption associated with the illinois case today.

Connecticut is one of about fifteen states which provides for a gubernatorial interim appointment until the next state election. The interim appointment dies with the adjournment of the legislature.

Illinois and New York might well consider our system as an example to minimize the ramifications inherent in their current situations

Authentic Connecticut Republican said...

>>She seems like a reasonably competent person who has every chance of doing a decent job of it.

Seems to me that those that wind up in the U.S. Senate with prior legislative experience don't do any better than the stray movie star celebrities that show up with no experience at all.
The inexperienced seem generally more naive and thus less likely to play stupid political games.
(Consider Fred Thompson, or Sonny Bono's Congressional record - both tended to be far more bi-partisan than their more experienced peers.)

They (NY state) could elect worse, and sometimes have.

She has an accountablity that must weigh on her that others don't have.

I assume she would be responsible so as to not place a poor reflection on either of her parents.

Due to that burden, she might well become one of the most thoughtful members of the entire Senate in years, should she be selected.

Her father is held in unusually high regard by most, including Republicans, while her bigger-than-life, mother remains among the most respected women of all time.

That inherited political capital could serve her, New York State, and the entire nation well if she chose to utilize it carefully.

Doors would be open that wouldn't normally for members of the other party for example.