Friday, September 18, 2009

Senator Dukakis?

The lower house of the Massachusetts legislature has passed a bill allowing Democratic Governor Deval Patrick to appoint a U.S. senator on an interim basis, to replace the late Ted Kennedy.

Apparently, the legislature is similar to the federal Congress, in that there are more blocking mechanisms available to the minority party in the Senate, than is the case in the House. (Democrats have huge majorities in both houses.) But the bill is expected also to pass the Senate, after only a brief delay.

The name of former Governor Michael Dukakis is often mentioned as a candidate for the appointment. The bill does not prevent the appointee from running in the subsequent special election, but Patrick plans to extract a pledge from any prospective appointee to refrain from running.

Michael Falcone analyzes Dukakis's chances, in Politico. Falcone quotes an anonymous source who makes an interesting comment, that the appointment is "Dukakis’s to lose". That's what most people were saying about the presidency, after the Democratic National Convention of 1988 nominated Dukakis for that office. He, of course, did lose that one. When it comes time to finalize the appointment, will Patrick succumb to doubts about Dukakis, as so many voters did 21 years ago?

The appointment will terminate after the January 19, 2010, special election, so Dukakis or another appointee will not have a long Senate tenure. The main issue is whether the vacancy will be filled before the Senate votes on a health care bill. A Democratic interim senator would put that party's membership in the upper house back up to 60, which is the magic number to break a filibuster.

Democrats still need to compromise on that legislation with moderates in their own party. And they might snag a moderate Republican or two. But the position of Majority Leader Harry Reid, and other Democratic leaders, will be strengthened if the Republicans don't have enough votes on their own to block a bill.

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