Feingold wants to put an end to Senate vacancy appointments by governors

Gov. Bill Ritter announcing his appointment of DPS Superintendent Michael Bennet to replace Sen. Ken Salazar. (Photo/Jeffrey Beall, Flickr)
Gov. Bill Ritter announcing his appointment of DPS Superintendent Michael Bennet to replace Sen. Ken Salazar. (Photo/Jeffrey Beall, Flickr)
Even as we learn embattled Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich considered appointing Oprah Winfrey to fill Barack Obama’s U.S. Senate seat — Oprah was glad she wasn’t on her treadmill when she heard the news — and New York Gov. David Paterson raised the ire of the Kennedy clan by finally naming an obscure, upstate congresswoman to take Hillary Clinton’s place, Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold plans to introduce a constitutional amendment that would require U.S. Senate vacancies be filled by special elections instead of gubernatorial appointments. Feingold, who is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, released the following statement Sunday:

“The controversies surrounding some of the recent gubernatorial appointments to vacant Senate seats make it painfully clear that such appointments are an anachronism that must end. In 1913, the Seventeenth Amendment to the Constitution gave the citizens of this country the power to finally elect their senators. They should have the same power in the case of unexpected mid term vacancies, so that the Senate is as responsive as possible to the will of the people. I plan to introduce a constitutional amendment this week to require special elections when a Senate seat is vacant, as the Constitution mandates for the House, and as my own state of Wisconsin already requires by statute. As the Chairman of the Constitution Subcommittee, I will hold a hearing on this important topic soon.”

Governors have had the opportunity to appoint four senators since the election — in addition to Blagojevich naming Roland Burris on the heels of his arrest in a “pay-for-play” scandal and charges that he attempted to sell Obama’s Senate seat, and months of dithering over whether Caroline Kennedy would win Paterson’s nod, Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter picked Denver Public Schools Superintendent Michael Bennet to take over for Ken Salazar, who joined Obama’s Cabinet as secretary of the interior. Longtime aide Ted Kaufman won appointment to Vice President Joe Biden’s Delaware seat as a placeholder until Biden’s son Beau can return from Iraq to claim the mantle in 2010. All are Democrats.

Rhode Island state Rep. David Segal argued against governors appointing senators in a Saturday New York Times op/ed contribution:

[Now] that Gov. David Paterson of New York has completed his operatic quest to fill Hillary Clinton’s Senate seat and Roland Burris, chosen by the embattled Illinois governor to succeed Barack Obama, has made it past Capitol Hill security, we can safely conclude that appointing senators might not be such a good idea.

Segal said Senate vacancies should be filled the same way as House vacancies, with special elections, and urged states to make the change themselves if Congress doesn’t act.

Colorado state Sen. Mike Kopp, a Jefferson County Republican, wants Colorado to fill Senate vacancies by special election, the Rocky Mountain News reported last week.

The Marathon Blog’s Phil Singer makes the case that the newly appointed senators, including Bennet, should lead the charge:

With more than 180 Senators having been named by governors since 1913, appointed lawmakers can make themselves part of the culture of change by ending what Segal calls the “tyranny of appointments.”

From a tactical standpoint, these new Senators will inoculate themselves against charges of cronyism when the time comes for them to actually face voters. The fact that they are all Democrats would also send the message that the Democratic party’s rhetoric about reform is sincere and backed by action. More importantly, they will reform what the last few weeks have confirmed to be a flawed and inherently undemocratic process.

A spokesman for Bennet told the Colorado Independent Monday morning the senator hasn’t had the chance “to review the amendment’s language,” since it hasn’t been introduced yet. “He’ll take a look at it once it’s offered,” Bennet’s spokesman said.

Here’s a list maintained by the Senate of appointed senators since 1913, when the 17th Amendment establishing direct election of senators went into effect. The last appointment in Colorado? Republican Eugene D. Millikin, who was appointed on Dec. 20, 1941 and won re-election in 1942.

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