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As Kennedy Mourned, Massachusetts Lawmakers Begin Debate on His Wish for a Quick Successor

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Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick says he hopes to carry out one of Ted Kennedy’s last public wishes, appointing a temporary successor. Last week Kennedy asked Massachusetts lawmakers to change the state’s succession laws, which call for a special election at least 145 days after a vacancy occurs. That would leave Kennedy’s seat vacant until at least mid-January. We speak to Boston Phoenix political reporter David Bernstein. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: To talk more about the death of Ted Kennedy and the future of his Senate seat, we’re joined now by David Bernstein. He’s a political reporter at the Boston Phoenix. His most recent article is called “After Ted.”

Well, why don’t you answer that question, David? What happens now? What happens “after Ted”?

DAVID BERNSTEIN: Well, it’s very much up in the air. According to state law, as it currently stands here in Massachusetts, there will be about a five-month vacancy, while they run a special election to choose the successor. However, there’s been a real push to change that law to allow Governor Deval Patrick to appoint a temporary successor. That’s something that’s been talked about really since Senator Kennedy became ill last year, but really picked up steam last week when a letter was revealed, that Senator Kennedy had written, saying that that was his wishes. And then, of course, since he passed away, it’s taken up, obviously, some urgency. It’s unknown whether that’s going to succeed, that change, but there’s pressure building towards it. But it’s still kind of an iffy prospect.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, David, the Governor of Massachusetts himself backed that yesterday, Deval Patrick, saying he would sign a bill if it was brought to him. But there’s the issue, isn’t there, that the Democrats just changed this requirement a few years ago to prevent a sitting governor from being able to choose a successor?

DAVID BERNSTEIN: That’s exactly right. A governor by the name of Mitt Romney, who they didn’t want to — the Democrats who control the state legislature here did not want Mitt Romney naming a successor to the Senate. So, that’s when the change came, when John Kerry was running for president. And obviously, had he won, it would have opened up a seat, so that’s when they changed the law. It had been the way that most states currently have it, where the governor appoints a successor until the next federal — next regularly scheduled federal election.

So, this is — it was seen at the time, obviously, as a very political move, but it’s also part of a bit of a national movement towards, you know, democratizing, if you will, that succession prospect. So, rather than have just an appointed person serving for up to two years, which we have right now, for instance, Kirsten Gillibrand from New York chosen to succeed Hillary Clinton, Roland Burris from Illinois, and so forth. But states are beginning to move in this direction of an elected successor. So it was sort of forgiven then, even though it was clearly blatantly political. But then to amend it again, clearly because the Democrats want a Democrat in the Senate to be that sixtieth vote for closure — that’s necessary for closure in the Senate — Harry Reid has made clear, the president of the Senate, that he wants a Democrat down there in Washington, a sixtieth Democrat, as quickly as possible —-

AMY GOODMAN: For the healthcare vote. David Bernstein, we have less than a minute. Who are the people’s names that are being bandied about as possible successors to Ted Kennedy?

DAVID BERNSTEIN: Well, there’s two parts, that there’s the people who will be running for the special election, which include the Attorney General Martha Coakley and several congressmen, Steve Lynch, Mike Capuano, possibly Ed Markey, former Congressman Marty Meehan, and other possibilities. As far as the temporary successors, that could potentially be Vicki Kennedy, Ted Kennedy’s wife, could possibly be someone like a Mike Dukakis, someone who’s been, you know, out of office and wouldn’t be seen as a threat to actually run for the term permanently.

AMY GOODMAN: Barney Frank, as well?

DAVID BERNSTEIN: Barney Frank is certainly someone who’s being looked at -— who’s going to look at it, although he certainly has such a great position right now where he is as Banking chairman in the House.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to leave it there, but, David Bernstein, I want to thank you very much for being with us, political reporter for the Boston Phoenix.

Again, the funeral for Ted Kennedy will take place on Saturday in Boston, and then he’ll be buried at Arlington National Cemetery alongside his brothers Robert Kennedy and John Kennedy.

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