Just my Thoughts · Politics

Empty Senate Seats

This has been the year for under-representation in the US Senate.  As you may recall from your American history class, the legislative part of the United States government is made up of two house – the House of Representatives where the representation is dependent on state population and the Senate where representation is two per state.

Look at this particular year in the history of the Senate.

Al Franken (D-MN) and Norm Coleman (R-MN) were tied up in an extremely close election.  There were recounts and court appeals before, in April – four months after the Senate convened for its session, the winner was decided.  This decision was also appealed to the Minnesota Supreme Court where, on June 30, 2009, Al Franken was declared the winner.  He was sworn in as a United States Senator on July 7, 2009.  The state of Minnesota spent six months being under-represented in the US Senate.

New York did not spend nearly that amount of time being underrepresented.  The junior US Senator from NY Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) was nominated by her former adversary to the position of Secretary of State.  The nomination came on December 1, 2008.  This would give, all would think, Governor David A Paterson (D-NY) plenty of time to decide on a successor as, according to NYS law, US Senate vacancies are by appointment of the governor.  On January 21, 2009, Hillary Rodham Clinton was confirmed by the US Senate as the 67th Secretary of State.  Member of Congress Kirsten Gillibrand was appointed to the Senate seat on January 23, 2009 and officially took the oath of office on January 27.  The state of NY was underrepresented for one month in the US Senate.

The Boston Globe is reporting today that US Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) is hoping to prevent any time of under-representation in the US Senate for his home state of Massachusetts.  Kennedy, who was diagnosed with a brain tumor over a year ago, has not been in Washington.  He has been keeping in touch with his colleague, Senator John Kerry (D-MA), and his staff in DC but has not been on the floor of the senate while an issue- health care reform – that has been central to his almost fifty year Senate career has evolved.  The letter, sent to Governor Deval L Patrick (D) and Massachusetts state senate president and house speaker, asks for a change in a 2004 state law that says US Senate vacancies are filled by special elections that must take place within five months.  Kennedy is asking both the legislature and the governor to consider changing this to allow for an appointment by the governor to fill gap between a vacancy and the special election and administering of the oath of office.

In the middle of a vital battle to reform health care in this country, Kennedy wants to be sure the opinions of Massachusetts residents are represented in the US Senate.  Whether this means Kennedy feels his own mortality and that death is close or whether it means he realizes he cannot continue in his position as a US Senator is inconsequential.  All states would do well to watch closely what Massachusetts does.  Ideally, in my mind, there would be one way – in all 50 states – to fill vacancies in the US Senate.  This method would allow for an appointment immediately and a special election to follow in a timely manner.  To have a state, in the legislative chamber that is suppose to contain equal representation for each state, underrepresented is down right unamerican.

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