Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Area lawmakers divided on interim senate bill

Tuesday, September 22, 2009
The following story was published in the MetroWest Daily News in the 9/22/09 print version. This was not published on the paper's website.

BOSTON – Area lawmakers are divided on a bill to give Gov. Deval Patrick the power to appoint an interim U.S. senator. But with a vote looming in the state Senate, the disagreements are not along party lines.

“We have been putting an emphasis on increasing the integrity of the Legislature,” said Sen. Michael Moore, D-Worcester, who opposes the bill.

“This could be deemed as a slap in the face of some of the integrity efforts that we have been trying to make. This could be deemed as a purely political vote.”

The Massachusetts House last week passed a bill that would give Patrick the power to make an interim appointment to fill the Sen. Edward Kennedy’s seat. The appointee would hold the office until a January vote to elect a new senator to fill out Kennedy’s term.

State Democrats have been under pressure from the Obama administration and Congressional Democrats to fill Kennedy’s seat and give the party a 60-vote majority in the Senate – a margin viewed as critical to pass Obama’s health care program in the coming weeks.

But critics say the interim appointment would be hypocritical because Democrats took the appointment power away from then Gov. Mitt Romney in 2004 to prevent him from appointing a Republican if Sen. John Kerry was elected president, leaving his seat vacant.

Moore said he is not alone among fellow Democrats in opposing the bill.

“One positive of this, is you hear a lot of talk about a one-party state and the negative effects of one-party rule. I think by seeing the 42 Democrats that went against the legislation (in the House) and the fact that you will see some Democrats in the Senate voting against it, I think it shows the positiveness of the diversity of the Democratic Party,” he said.

Other Democrats are leaning toward supporting the bill.

Sen. Susan Fargo’s chief of staff, Don Siriani, said that while Fargo, a Middlesex Democrat, had some concerns regarding the bill’s constitutionality, “the constitutional challenges that the senator was applying as a filter have been cleared.”

Siriani said Fargo will make a final decision after listening to the caucus prior to the Senate session tomorrow, which he said, “will be instructive.”

“Her positioning has been consistent throughout: Make sure it’s a well thought out approach, make sure it meets constitutional muster, and then listen to what her constituents have to say. Overwhelmingly, the feedback we are having from our district is in support of the bill.”

Sen. Jamie Eldridge said that it will be a tough but important vote. The senator has been a supporter of the bill from the beginning and believes it is critical to have two senators and two voices in Washington, D.C.

“There is quite an urgency from constituents I represent,” he said. Eldridge said 62 percent of the calls to his office have been in support of an interim appointee.

Republican Sen. Scott Brown, an announced candidate in the special U.S. Senate election in January has already made his position known about an interim appointment. Brown issued a press release last week, criticizing presidential adviser David Axelrod’s plea to state Democrats to pass the Senate appointment bill.

“Someone should tell the White House that this Senate seat belongs to the people of Massachusetts. It’s not a rubber stamp for anyone,” he said. “I find it offensive that we are going to appoint someone to march in lockstep to vote for higher taxes and more government in Washington.”

Sen. Harriette Chandler, D-Worcester, was not available for comment but favors the bill, according to her communications director, Timothy Daley.

The offices of Senators Karen Spilka and Cynthia Stone Creem, both Democrats from Middlesex and Norfolk, did not return calls requesting comment.

The state Senate will likely debate the bill on Tuesday. If passed without differences from the House version, the bill could reach the governor’s desk as early as Wednesday.

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