Kennedy Seeks Quick Fill for Senate Seat

ABC News’ Rick Klein reports:

Sen. Ted Kennedy is urging state leaders to change Massachusetts law to ensure a quick filling of a potential Senate vacancy -- in an extraordinary acknowledgement that his historic Senate career is coming to a close.

Kennedy, D-Mass., wrote a letter to Gov. Deval Patrick, D-Mass., and State House leaders last month urging them to amend the law to allow the governor to appoint an interim replacement, should a death or resignation create a vacancy.

“I strongly support that law and the principle that the people should elect their senator,’’ Kennedy wrote, as first reported by The Boston Globe’s Frank Phillips. “I also believe it is vital for this Commonwealth to have two voices speaking for the needs of its citizens and two votes in the Senate during the approximately five months between a vacancy and an election.”

The Massachusetts Legislature stripped the governor of the power to fill a Senate vacancy in 2004, when Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., was running for president, and then-Gov. Mitt Romney, R-Mass., could have replaced him with a Republican. US Senate vacancies in the Bay State now can only be filled by a special election.

But concerns of state and national Democrats have changed during Kennedy’s illness. His death or resignation would create a vacancy that, under current law, would remain unfilled for five months -- during which time critical votes on health care and a range of issues could come before the Senate.

Kennedy associates say the letter reflects a genuine concern by the senator over how to best serve his home state’s interests, and does not suggest a worsening in his condition.

Kennedy has been battling brain cancer since last spring. He hasn’t appeared at the Capitol for Senate business since April, and he was unable to attend the funeral for his sister, Eunice, earlier this month.

Still, Kerry told the Globe that he’s in regular touch with Kennedy, and that the senior senator stands ready to return to the Senate should his vote be critical on a particular bill.

“He has been fully engaged,” Kerry said. “If [Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid required 60 votes tomorrow, Ted Kennedy would be on a plane and be down in the Senate to vote.”

--Rick Klein

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