Robert Byrd Successor Will Be Appointed. A Good Idea?

Article excerpt

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.

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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. …

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