Thursday January 31, 2013

In choosing William Cowan, his former chief of staff and chief legal counsel, as interim U.S. senator until an election is held to complete the term of the departing John Kerry, Governor Deval Patrick appointed an experienced government hand with no apparent political ambition. That’s the ideal combination for this position over the next five months.

A son of the segregated south, Mr. Cowan will be the state’s second African-American senator after Republican Edward Brooke. At a press conference Wednesday, he said "This is going to be a very short political career," a perspective that undoubtedly pleased the governor. Former U.S. Representative Barney Frank openly campaigned for the appointment, and while Mr. Frank was a capable and accomplished congressman, he was a polarizing political figure. An interim senator must be effective, but quietly so.

Today, Democratic Congressman Stephen Lynch is expected to announce his candidacy for the seat, which Mr. Kerry is leaving to become U.S. secretary of state, setting up a primary fight with fellow congressman Edward Markey on April 30 that the party establishment had hoped to avoid. The winner of that race, which will be good for the state if not Democratic harmony, will almost assuredly take on Republican Scott Brown, who would be running for the Senate for the third time since 2009. Massachusetts, a pioneering state in the American experiment with democracy, is now providing a long-running experiment in serial Senate elections.