Thursday November 15, 2012

Ready for another special election to the Senate? Should John Kerry leave the Senate for a Cabinet position in the second Obama administration, there will be a special election next year and another Senate election in 2014 when his term expires, giving Massachu setts four Senate races in five years. Two of the five will have arisen because of gamesmanship on Beacon Hill that demonstrates how partisan politics can blow up in the faces of the partisans.

Through no fault of his own, Senator Kerry was stuck in the middle of it eight years ago when Beacon Hill Democrats decided to revoke the governor’s role of filling congressional vacancies. Mr. Kerry had won the Democratic nomination for president in 2004 and Democratic legislators, worried that Republican Governor Mitt Romney would appoint a Republican to succeed him as senator, pushed through a bill calling for a special election preceded by a five-month campaign. Senator Kerry did not win the presidency in 2004 and two years later Democrats squashed a Republican effort to return powers of permanent appointment to the governor.

In 2009, shortly before Democratic Senator Edward Kennedy succumbed to cancer, an effort began on Beacon Hill to again give the governor, in this case Democrat Deval Patrick, the power to appoint a replacement to the Senate until 2012. It was so transparently cynical it went nowhere, and to his credit, the governor wanted no part. He appointed a temporary replacement for Senator Kennedy, Democrat Paul Kirk, and in January 2010, Republican Scott Brown won the special election.

Earlier this month, Elizabeth Warren defeated Senator Brown as the term Senator Kennedy won in 2006 expired. Another special election next year, followed by an election in 2014 when the term Senator Kerry won in 2008 expires, would mean four Senate races in five years. Governor Patrick said Tuesday that he will not push for a rules change on appointments but added that he wished he could appoint someone until 2014.

As a rule, vigorous election campaigns benefit a state -- but only within reason. Regular Senate elections are costly for the state, choke mailboxes with misleading flyers, fill the airwaves with negative ads and wear out voters. In Massachusetts, we can blame a partisan scheme that backfired eight years ago for the headaches.