Urges Change to Law to Provide for Both a "Voice and a Choice"
Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.) today testified before the Massachusetts state legislature in support of a special appointment for the late Senator Edward Kennedy's senate seat. In his testimony, Kerry offered strong support that the people of Massachusetts elect their Senator, and argued that the Commonwealth should have two voices and two votes in the senate until a new senator is elected.
"Big decisions are being made now -- not in five months. And important votes are coming now -- not in five months. Massachusetts cannot and should not be underrepresented," Senator Kerry said. "It comes down to a simple question -- at this historic moment, do you believe that Massachusetts should have two votes in the United States Senate, or just one?"
The full text of Kerry's testimony as prepared for delivery is below:
Let me begin by making one thing clear: An open Senate seat should be filled on a term to term basis by the people of Massachusetts. A vacancy in an existing term should be filled until the completion of that term by an election. The Legislature was correct to codify the people's will in 2004 and provide for an election.
Nothing that I say today should -- or will -- change that. The question before us is not changing current law to allow for an appointment in the place of an election. The question is whether we will provide for the best interests of our state and the individual needs of our citizens by allowing for a temporary appointment while the election takes place under the law.
I believe beyond any doubt that common sense profoundly argues we should allow for a temporary appointment because it is in the best interests of Massachusetts as a state and because it allows for the interests of individuals in Massachusetts to best be served.
There are compelling interests, both national and state, for why we are better off with temporary representation -- and I will go into them. But one interest alone should weigh heavily in your deliberations: How to do the most to serve your constituents.
No one knew more about that than Ted Kennedy. When he ran his first campaign for the Senate in 1962, his campaign slogan was "He Can Do More For Massachusetts." In the 47 years that followed, from his first day in the Senate until his last, Ted's guiding principle was unchanged -- it was to do more for Massachusetts.
No one had a deeper and more abiding devotion to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts than Ted Kennedy. And even in his final days, as his frail health was abandoning him, Ted was still looking out for the interests of Massachusetts. He did so by asking that the laws be changed so that Massachusetts would not be without its two votes in the Senate in the event his seat became vacant.
I am tempted to say what an extraordinary thing for him to do. But anyone who knew Ted realizes it was not an extraordinary thing at all for him to do. He was still trying to do more for Massachusetts, even in his poignant acknowledgement of his own mortality.
Ted Kennedy wasn't making a request for himself. He didn't write the legislature to further some minor, personal political agenda. He wrote on behalf of Massachusetts knowing that he would not live to be personally impacted by the outcome of this request. In his dying days he put to you and to all the citizens of our Commonwealth a choice about how to best protect the interests of our state.
In his letter proposing the change in the succession law, Ted said the "continuity of representation for Massachusetts" was an issue that concerned him deeply. He wrote that he strongly supported "the principle that the people should elect their senator." But he also expressed his belief that "it is vital for this Commonwealth to have two voices speaking for the needs of its citizens and two votes in the Senate" until a new Senator is elected.
I, too, strongly support the principle that the people should elect their Senator. And I, too, strongly believe Massachusetts should have two voices and two votes in the Senate until a new Senator is elected.
What Ted proposed is a plan that is hardly radical. It's hardly even unprecedented, even in Massachusetts. What we're talking about is simply changing the law so that the governor can appoint an interim Senator to fill any vacancy until the special election is held in just five months.
Like so many other states, Massachusetts has had interim Senators in the past. When John F. Kennedy left this very same Senate seat after being elected president in 1960, then-Governor Foster Furcolo appointed Ben Smith, to serve in the seat until the next general election, in 1962. Senator Smith undertook his duties with a commitment that he would be in the Senate only until the voters chose a Senator for the long term, and the voters, of course, chose Ted in 1962.
That is the same kind of commitment Ted wanted to see from anyone appointed to fill his Senate seat on a temporary basis. Ted said the governor should obtain an "explicit personal commitment" from his appointee not to seek the office on a permanent basis. I couldn't agree more.
I know many in the legislature have expressed their concern that the electoral playing field might be unfairly tilted in the event that an interim appointee broke their commitment to not run for the office. That is why I want to express my personal commitment today, and I believe it is shared by Governor Patrick and by our entire congressional delegation, that if an appointee attempted to break that trust, we'd do all in our power to campaign against them and guarantee that they no longer have the privilege of representing our state. Make no mistake, in the real world of practical politics -- We won't let anyone break their word to the people of Massachusetts.
There will be plenty of time for campaigning across Massachusetts over the next five months. But right now, in these historic months, Massachusetts must be represented -- and represented fully -- in Washington.
This is not just theoretical. The history of America has, on more than one occasion, turned as a result of one or two or three votes in the Senate.
Ted himself cast such votes during his illness. Last February, he defied doctor's orders and flew to Washington to vote in an important procedural vote on President Obama's economic stimulus plan. The vote was 61-36, just one more than the 60 needed to advance the bill. That wasn't the only time. In July 2008, Ted returned to the Senate to cast a key procedural vote to protect Medicare.
Senate history has been marked by these kind of moments. One of the most dramatic came on June 10, 1964, when President Johnson was working night and day to find enough votes to end the filibuster of the Civil Rights Act. Supporters knew that every vote would count, so they arranged for Democratic Senator Clair Engle of California to be brought from his sick bed to cast his vote. The Senator was suffering from a terminal brain tumor and was unable to speak. So when the roll call came to "Mr. Engle," there was no sound in response. But the senator pointed to his eye to indicate his "aye" vote, and with that one vote, one Senator helped to break the back of Jim Crow.
Perhaps the most famous vote in the Senate occurred on May 16, 1868. The Senate voted 35 to 19 to remove President Andrew Johnson from office -- one vote short of the necessary two-thirds. The difference was Republican Senator Edmund G. Ross, who voted against removing President Johnson from office, a vote that cost him his seat in the Senate but won him a place in John F. Kennedy's "Profiles In Courage."
We've had 244 tie votes in the history of the Senate, and, of course, the vice president under the Constitution is empowered to vote to break any tie. So whenever you see the vice president presiding over the Senate, you know there's at least chance of a very close vote. At least five times that I've counted this year, we've seen Vice President Biden take that trip from one end of Pennsylvania Avenue to the other, prepared to break a legislative logjam.
And sometimes it takes one vote to get to a tie-breaking situation, like a last-second field goal.
It happened in 1993 when Democratic Senator Bob Kerrey of Nebraska, voted to support President Clinton's first budget. Senator Kerrey's vote allowed Vice President Al Gore to break the tie and approve a budget that helped to spark the economic boom of the 1990's.Vice President Cheney broke eight tie votes in the Senate, including one approving President Bush's 2003 budget.
The point is: for hundreds of years, our history has been written by United States Senators who defied doctor's orders and defied prevailing political winds, because they knew that in the United States Senate, every vote counts -- and one vote can make all the difference. This issue is bigger than the interests of the Democratic Party or the interests of the Republican Party. This is about the interests of the people of Massachusetts.
And we know that it is not just the act of voting but the thousands of acts of constituent service that hang in the balance. By law, Senator Kennedy's offices are only allowed to remain open for the purpose of closing. When a vacancy occurs, the staff has 60 days to close the office -- so now only 45 days left on that job. And for these next five months, unless there is an appointment and these experienced staff are working directly for a Senator, they are no longer allowed to do the important work of helping the people of Massachusetts with specific problems, like, late Social Security checks or school loans or Medicare coverage -- and even to transfer casework requires a waiver of confidentiality. It is a complicated process.
My staff has begun the difficult process of transferring cases from Ted's office to ours, but it's a task meant for two Senators, not one. If you have any doubt about that, Senator Amy Klobuchar can explain how difficult it was for Minnesota during the six months it took this year to sort out their state's Senate race between Al Franken and Norm Coleman.
Senator Klobuchar spent a lot of time during those six months trying to be in two places at one time. She came to understand very quickly there is reason the Constitution provides for each state to be represented by two Senators, not one.
My offices receive an average of 1,000 telephone calls, and hundreds of letters and emails daily. Some call or write to express their disagreement with me, some do so to express their support or their own opinion on an issue. Many, however, simply call for help. This year alone, we've opened over 1,000 constituent cases -- from January to just a few days ago.
The people who contact us -- and the people who contacted Ted's office over the years -- are your parents and your grandparents, who might need help with their pension or with Social Security or their doctor's office. They are your child's teacher, the one who dips into his own pocket for crayons and paper and other supplies -- calling to get help with his student loan. They are your neighbors, whose sick daughter is in need of a wheelchair. They are your bank teller or the guy who fixes your car or paints your house -- trying to get the attention and the care they deserve from the VA. They are soldiers in Iraq or Afghanistan needing emergency leave for a sick child or a buddy's funeral. They are all of us -- who at some time in our lives might need that gentle hand up from government. That's what Ted's office did for so long, and it's what my office strives to still do every day.
Under the Constitution, it's up to each state to decide how to fill vacancies in the Senate. And typically, it is left to the governor to appoint an interim Senator to fill the vacancy until an election is held.
Last year, with the election of incumbent Senators as President and Vice President, combined with subsequent cabinet appointments, we had the highest number of Senate vacancies during a presidential transition period in over 60 years.
In Illinois, Delaware, Colorado and New York, governors appointed temporary replacements for Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Ken Salazar and Hillary Clinton to serve. That is the way it is also done in 31 other states.
In none of these states was a Senate seat simply left empty even for a few months. In fact, today Massachusetts is just one of three states in the country that leaves a seat empty even while awaiting a quick and orderly special election.
And in Delaware, we have the perfect example for us to follow. Ted Kaufman, a longtime aide to Joe Biden who had served Delaware for decades, was appointed to fill Joe's seat after he was elected vice president last November. And in accepting the appointment, Sen. Kaufman made the commitment to be a caretaker and step aside when the people of Delaware choose a permanent replacement. The work of constituent service and the work of representing Delaware were not interrupted.
And that's the way it worked in Massachusetts until the law was changed in 2004. Our law was changed for a very good reason - to make sure that the voters of Massachusetts could choose a Senator in a special election that could be held as soon as possible after a vacancy occurs.
Let's be candid: in 2002, I was reelected with 72 % of the vote. Had I won the presidency in 2004, under a flaw in the old law, Governor Romney would have appointed a Republican to serve until January, 2007. Correctly, legislators realized that would not have reflected the will of the people because that was not what nearly 1.7 million Massachusetts voters had chosen in 2002. A speedy special election was the right solution to a flawed law -- but in hindsight -- as always, miraculously 20/20 -- we created a new flaw in the new law as well.
Now we have an opportunity to get it right for posterity -- to preserve the principle of the people electing their Senators while also making sure that the state be fully represented at all times, even on an interim basis. It's important to give Massachusetts both a Voice and a Choice during the next few months. By setting the election date, they have been guaranteed their choice, now we need to make sure they have a voice over the next few months.
This approach is hardly radical or unprecedented. Since 1913, when the 17th Amendment to the Constitution provided for popular election of Senators, there have been 184 appointments to Senate seats. Currently, there are ten states that provide for so-called "quick special elections" to fill Senate vacancies, with governors empowered to make interim appointments until those elections are held.
That is the same approach we need now in Massachusetts. It would certainly be a fitting - and lasting -- tribute to one of the greatest champions of the Commonwealth, because I simply refuse to believe the 69 percent of Massachusetts voters who re-elected Ted Kennedy in 2006 should go without a voice in his Senate seat for even a few months before they can choose a new permanent Senator.
We know that -- as much as we always aim to govern for the long term -- legislating is driven by the moment. And the moment we face today could not be more different than the one Massachusetts faced five years ago when last we revisited our laws to fill Senate vacancies.
Back then we had a Republican President, a Republican Congress, and partisanship was rife. We were preparing for the possibility of a very different kind of transition.
Had I been elected President in November 2004, an immediate date for a special election would've been set. We would have had a new Senator elected and sworn in before the new business of the new Congress and the new Administration would even have really begun. That was the transition period after the election in 2004 and the early start of the legislative season where there was little of substance being debated, few days - just 29 - in session and even fewer votes -- just 16 - occurring.
Some Republicans voted five years ago for the approach we are proposing now. I hope they will see that their vote then was the right one; indeed, looking at the times we face today, it was even prescient.
Today, we're facing an historic moment -- and the busiest, most hotly debated legislative work period in 70 years since the New Deal. We are fighting wars in Afghanistan and Iraq -- and here at home we are combating the worst economic conditions since the Great Depression. We are making important strides in our efforts to halt and reverse global climate change. And we are closer than ever to providing health care coverage to every man, woman and child in America. None of these big challenges will be decided by huge margins -- these are times again when every vote will count.
Decisions are being made every day in Washington that will impact the future of Massachusetts -- decisions about taxes, budgets, education, pensions, infrastructure, to mention just a few. Massachusetts has been at the forefront in each of these substantive areas and has an important stake in each of these items: whether it's the question of whether our state's pioneering experiment in bi-partisan health care reform will be bolstered at the federal level; or whether Massachusetts' groundbreaking 2008 legislation will be a model nationally; not to mention huge implications for the Massachusetts financial sector when the Senate tackles financial regulatory reform; and enormous impact on Massachusetts priorities when we debate and pass the FY 2010 appropriations.
This is no time for the people of Massachusetts to not be represented fully in Washington. We need to be in the strongest position possible.
Big decisions are being made now -- not in five months. And important votes are coming now -- not in five months. Massachusetts cannot and should not be underrepresented.
It comes down to a simple question -- at this historic moment, do you believe that Massachusetts should have two votes in the United States Senate, or just one?
I believe that when the roll is called, as Ted Kennedy said, "it is vital for this Commonwealth to have two voices speaking for the needs of its citizens and two votes in the Senate." That is exactly what we owe to the people of Massachusetts -- to put aside partisan interests and do what is best for the state we love and the people we serve.