Kennedy Prepares For The Vote He May Not Cast

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All year, Ted Kennedy, the liberal lion of the Senate, has been the symbolic leader of the fight for health care reform, taking time out of his treatment for a brain tumor to show up at White House events on the topic and spending countless hours on working the phones to further negotiations. But there has been no certainty at all that Kennedy would be able to vote for the measure himself.

Kennedy, whose condition remains serious but unchanged, sent a letter Tuesday to Massachusetts leaders asking that they insure his mortality does not get in the way of his legislative hopes. At issue is a state succession law, passed in 2004, that requires a special election be held within five months of a U.S. Senate vacancy, but offers no mechanism for a temporary appointment during the interim period.

“I strongly support that law and the principle that the people should elect their senator,” Kennedy wrote in the letter (see pdf here). “I also believe it is vital for this Commonwealth to have two voices speaking for the needs of its citizens and two votes in the Senate during the approximately five months between a vacancy and an election.’’

He asks for the a change in state law that would allow the governor to appoint an interim replacement before the special election, someone who would be barred from running for election to the seat so as not to grant any electoral advantage. Leaders of both the state House and Senate have not yet signaled whether they would agree to Kennedy’s request.

Kennedy’ letter is also notable for its opening and closing paragraphs, in which the Senator ruminates on his nearly 47-year career in the Senate.

I am proud of the contribution our Commonwealth has made to the great debates of our time and out national history. I believe the voices and views of those we have elected to the Senate and House of Representatives have shaped America’s progress–from the days of John Adam and Daniel Webster to the present. . . . Serving the people of Massachusetts in the United States Senate has been–and still is–the greatest honor of my public life.

Last week, Kennedy did not attend the funeral of his sister, Eunice.

One other note: There is a nice political irony to Kennedy’s request. It was, after all, the Democrats who put in place the new rule five years ago, as a way of protecting the seat of Kennedy allies, John Kerry. As the Boston Globe explains:

Massachusetts governors used to have the power to fill Senate vacancies, as happens in many other states, until the Legislature made the change five years ago. Democratic lawmakers, then as now in the majority, did not want to give Governor Mitt Romney the chance to fill Kerry’s seat with a Republican if Kerry won the presidency.