Ailing Senator Edward Kennedy Requests a Quick Replacement Process

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A cancer-stricken Sen. Edward M. Kennedy has askedMassachusetts leaders to change state law to allow a speedyreplacement if it becomes necessary for him to surrender his seat,fearing a months-long vacancy would deny Democrats a crucial voteon President Barack Obama's health care overhaul.

In a note to Gov. Deval Patrick and other state leaders, Kennedyasked that lawmakers allow the governor to appoint an interimreplacement pending election of a successor, to ensure there wouldnot be a period with a vacancy. Currently, the law requires aspecial election to be held within five months.

"It is vital for this commonwealth to have two voices speakingfor the needs of its citizens and two votes in the Senate duringthe approximately five months between a vacancy and an election,"he wrote.

Health care has been Kennedy's signature issue. AlthoughDemocrats hold a potentially filibuster-proof margin in the Senate,the fate of a sweeping health care bill could hinge on a singlevote and some moderate Democrats have been wavering. AnotherDemocrat, Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia, has been seriously illand often absent.

Kennedy's letter acknowledges the state changed its successionlaw in 2004 to require a special election be held 145 to 160 daysafter the vacancy. At the time, legislative Democrats - with a widemajority in both chambers - were concerned because then-RepublicanGov. Mitt Romney had the power to directly fill any vacancy createdas Democratic Sen. John Kerry ran for president.

The letter was sent Tuesday, but Kennedy aides insist there isno material change in his condition since he was diagnosed with amalignant brain tumor in May 2008. Kennedy was initially treatedwith surgery, followed by chemotherapy and radiation treatment.

"For almost 47 years, I have had the privilege of representingthe people of Massachusetts in the United States Senate," Kennedywrote in his letter. He added that serving in the Senate "has been- and still is - the greatest honor of my public life."

The 77-year-old has been convalescing at his homes in Washingtonand in Hyannis Port, as well as a rental property in Florida, buthis absence from last week's funeral on Cape Cod for his sister,Eunice Kennedy Shriver, prompted a flurry of questions about hisown health.

An aide said the letter was one of several written by Kennedy inearly July. Another was to Pope Benedict XVI and was hand-deliveredby President Barack Obama during a visit to the Vatican.

In his succession letter, Kennedy suggests the governor ensurethe fairness of any appointment to replace him by seeking an"explicit personal commitment" his appointee will not seek theposition on a permanent basis.

Despite speculation that Kennedy's wife, Vicki, is interested inthe seat, family aides have said she is not interested in replacingher husband either temporarily or permanently. One of Kennedy'snephews, former Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy II, has also been describedas interested, along with a number of the state's remainingcongressional members and local lawmakers.

Amid similar speculation about a Senate vacancy last fall, whenKerry was under consideration for secretary of state, SenatePresident Therese Murray was adamant that the law not be changed.After recent inquiries from The Associated Press, aides to bothMurray and House Speaker Robert DeLeo said they are unlikely toback any change.

Aides to both leaders say an election was more democratic than agubernatorial appointment, and they cited the legal and politicalproblems that plagued former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich and NewYork Gov. David Paterson when they filled vacancies for PresidentBarack Obama and former Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, respectively.

Secretary of State William Galvin, who oversees elections inMassachusetts, said Thursday the law cannot be changed withoutdebate, public hearings and a vote by the Legislature while meetingin formal session. The Legislature is currently in informalsession, meaning an objection by one lawmaker can hold up thechange.

"This is not a change that could happen today," Galvin said.He said there is no provision in current law for any kind ofinterim appointment.

Murray is also a strong backer of Martha Coakley, the firstfemale attorney general in Massachusetts and someone who hasquietly laid the groundwork for a special-election campaign.

In a joint statement to The Boston Globe, which first reportednews of Kennedy's letter, both Murray and DeLeo were noncommittal.

"We have great respect for the senator and what he continues todo for our commonwealth and our nation. It is our hope that he willcontinue to be a voice for the people of Massachusetts as long ashe is able," they said.

Patrick said in a statement: "It's typical of Ted Kennedy to bethinking ahead and about the people of Massachusetts, when the restof us are thinking about him."

Patrick was the top civil rights official in the Clintonadministration, and he has argued about the importance of thepublic vote. But last fall he noted more than 40 other states fillcongressional vacancies by gubernatorial appointment. He also citedthe state's deteriorating fiscal condition as one argument to skipa special election and empower the governor to fill vacancies.

"These are always sensitive calls, but there are sensitivecalls and decisions that governors have to make," he said inDecember.

Under the current law, the governor must call an election within145 to 160 days of receiving a resignation letter. A primary wouldbe held five or six weeks beforehand, reducing the time candidateswould have to raise money for a campaign.

Besides Joseph Kennedy and Coakley, Democrats who might try tosucceed Kennedy include Reps. Stephen Lynch, Michael Capuano,Edward Markey, James McGovern and William Delahunt.

Former Rep. Martin Meehan, now chancellor of the University ofMassachusetts at Lowell, has $4.8 million in his federal campaignaccount, the largest sum of any potential candidate. That wouldgive him the advantage in any special election sprint.

On the Republican side, potential candidates include Cape Codbusinessman Jeff Beatty, former Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey, former U.S.Attorney Michael Sullivan and Chris Egan, former U.S. ambassador tothe Organization for Cooperation and Development.

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