, Salem, MA

February 22, 2013

Our view: Why replacing a senator isn't cheap

The Salem News

---- — Replacing John Kerry in the U.S. Senate will cost at least $13.5 million. That’s a ridiculous sum of money for Massachusetts taxpayers to have to spend. They can thank Democratic political shenanigans for it.

The expense comes after Kerry resigned his seat on Feb. 1 to become secretary of state in the Obama administration.

Gov. Deval Patrick chose former chief of staff and longtime adviser William “Mo” Cowan to serve as interim senator until a special election can be held. Party primaries will be on April 30, and the special election will be June 25.

State Auditor Suzanne Bump estimated that the cost to cities and towns of holding the elections will be $8.3 million. And Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin, who oversees state elections, said last week that he will ask the Legislature for $5.2 million to cover his office’s costs.

That’s $13.5 million to put a senator into office for 18 months. Kerry’s term expires in January 2015. The newly elected senator will face re-election in November 2014. That figure, of course, does not count the tens of millions of campaign dollars the candidates themselves will spend to win a job that pays $174,000 a year. Last year, Democrat Elizabeth Warren and Republican Scott Brown together spent $77 million on their Senate contest.

It wasn’t always like this. Once, the governor would handpick a successor to fill a Senate vacancy. If those rules still applied, we’d have Sen. Mo Cowan until January 2015.

But everything changed in 2004, when it looked like John Kerry might be elected president of the United States. Republican Mitt Romney was governor back then, and the Democrats running the state Legislature rebelled at the idea of Romney appointing a Republican to represent Massachusetts in the Senate. Heavens, no!

So our Democratic legislators did what any high-minded elected officials would do to serve the interests of the people they were sworn to represent ... yeah, right! Here’s what they really did: They changed the law to serve their own partisan political interests. No longer would a gubernatorial appointment be sufficient to fill a Senate vacancy. Now, an election would be required. Our Democratic leaders were confident that, in a general election, a Democratic Senate candidate would mop the floor with a Republican challenger.

This whole charade was rendered moot when Kerry failed to win the presidency. But the change in the law remained.

In 2008, with Democrat Deval Patrick safely in the governor’s office, Democratic legislators considered changing the law again back to gubernatorial appointment after Sen. Edward Kennedy was diagnosed with brain cancer. Why take a chance with an election when an appointment is a sure thing?

Shenanigans on that epic scale were too much for the Democrats to tolerate, so they left the special election system in place — only to be hoisted on their own petard when Democrat Martha Coakley ran possibly the worst campaign in history and lost to Brown in the 2010 election.

This is the law that is in place now. We’ve little choice but to pay the bill.

But taxpayers ought to remember just who is to blame for the high cost of replacing a senator and reward them when their own turns come to face the voters at the polls.