The death of Sen. Robert Byrd opens up room for the sixth Senate
appointee since January 2009. Some states are considering whether a
special election is a better option for selecting a senator.
One by one, the Senate is filling up with caretakers, or so it
seems. The death of Sen. Robert Byrd (D) of West Virginia early
Monday opens up room for the sixth such appointee since the start of
the 111th Congress in January 2009.
All these caretakers - representing Illinois, Delaware, New York,
Colorado, and Florida - have reignited questions over whether a
gubernatorial appointment, rather than a special election, is the
best way to fill a vacant Senate seat. In particular, allegations of
misbehavior in Illinois during the filling of President Obama's
former Senate seat spurred a move in some state legislatures to
change the way vacancies are filled.
Historically, most states have given governors the right to
appoint an interim senator in the case of a vacancy. But Illinois
hasn't been the only recent flash point: The awkward process by
which New York Gov. David Paterson (D) went about filling the seat
of Hillary Rodham Clinton, who resigned to become secretary of
State, added fuel to the reform movement. Caroline Kennedy, daughter
of the late President Kennedy, openly lobbied for the New York seat
until she withdrew her name from contention.
IN PICTURES: Senator Robert Byrd through the years and top 10
longest-serving US senators
Of the 12 states that considered legislation to fill Senate
vacancies by special election, Connecticut and Rhode Island were the
only ones that passed it in 2009, according to the National
Conference of State Legislatures. It also passed in Kansas but was
vetoed by the governor. Legislation is still alive in Illinois,
Iowa, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.
West Virginia was not one of the states that considered such a
bill. So now Gov. Joe Manchin (D), who has been eyeing the seat
himself, is in charge of appointing a replacement for Senator Byrd.
Although Governor Manchin has said he will not appoint himself to
the seat, his appointee will be someone who can enable his future
ambitions, says Susan Hunter, associate professor of political
science at West Virginia University in Morgantown.
"If he is planning on running for the Senate, he's not going to
put someone in place who is going to make it difficult for him to
run," Professor Hunter says. …