First and foremost, remember this: NO DEMOCRAT voted in 2004 against the proposal that Senator Kennedy put forward in the days before his death: that Massachusetts voters fill a Senate vacancy via special election, that the governor name an interim Senator to represent our state until voters can make their choice, and that whomever the governor selects not run in the special election. Nor did Democrats vote against the proposal that has been filed for consideration and will be discussed at a hearing on Wednesday.
That’s not what you heard? No surprise.
What Democrats DID vote against in 2004 was a dozen, yes 12, Republican efforts to thwart legislation empowering voters to fill a vacant US Senate seat by means of a special election. Democrats voted five times to pass this bill and override Gov. Romney’s veto of it, while Republicans voted all five times to keep the status quo and prevent any special election. Failing to stop the bill, Republicans tried seven times to amend it to hand Gov. Romney a trump card: the right to appoint an interim Senator who, Republicans did not deny, would be likely to run in the special election (very different from Senator Kennedy’s proposal that the appointee step aside). Only when those attempts to block an election and tilt the playing field failed, did the Republicans in the House offer up a baker’s dozen, yes, a 13th amendment – this time sham wording PUPORTING to provide for an interim appointee who SUPPOSEDLY would be prohibited from running in the special election. House transcripts show that amendment was challenged by Democrats not on its appeal in the abstract but because it was blatantly unconstitutional as drafted, violating a 1995 US Supreme Court decision. This effort went down by the biggest margin of all – not even all the Republicans voted for this charade. Understand these points: First, not a single Democrat spoke on the floor against the amendment saying it is bad policy or not attractive in theory. Second, not a single Republican defended its constitutionality. One Republican even admitted, “I don’t know whether this is constitutional or not . . . I can’t answer whether this is unconstitutional. That’s not my duty.”
So what REALLY happened in 2004 was Democrats in the legislature proposed and passed a law to give the voters the right to choose the person to fill a vacant US Senate seat. The Republicans battled against giving the voters the choice. Their next tactic was a series of maneuvers to give a political advantage to an interim appointee and when all else failed, they threw up a last ditch effort which was so feeble, they couldn’t get their own members to vote for it.
Does that seem unusual? Not to people who watch Republican legislative tactics regularly and know they are looking for a misleading vote to put on a piece of direct mail in the next election.
The stakes are high. We deserve the full staffing of two Senate offices to continue the important constituent service work for Massachusetts seniors and veterans who need a voice in dealing with a large federal bureaucracy. With health care reform and climate change in the balance, we need and deserve FULL representation on the floor of the U.S. Senate. Most of all we need to keep focused on what is best for Massachusetts – today.
There may be some who think we deserve less and that debate will be engaged in the coming days. But I hope we can finally put aside the distraction of what did and did not happen in 2004.
John Walsh, Chair
Massachusetts Democratic Party