BOSTON — With speculation swirling about the possibility of a U.S. Cabinet appointment for U.S. Sen. John Kerry, the possibility that Gov. Deval Patrick could soon have to appoint an interim senator to fill Kerry’s office until a special election is held is stoking questions about how Senate vacancies have been handled in the past.
Patrick appointed Paul Kirk in 2009 to fill the seat left vacant after the death of Edward Kennedy, and received a commitment from Kirk at the time not to be a candidate in the special election that followed five months later.
Asked whether he would seek a similar promise from another Senate appointee, Patrick yesterday told reporters, “Maybe. It’s too soon to say what I’m going to do because we don’t have a vacancy yet. John Kerry is a terrific senator and member of the delegation and I’ve heard and read the rumors like you have but I don’t have any information and I’m not going to make any plans or promises until I have some information.”
Kerry has coveted the secretary of state position for some time, but a report in the Washington Post this week suggested President Obama might be considering the senior senator from Massachusetts for secretary of defense.
“As a practical matter if a special election is held quickly, it’s hard to imagine an interim appointee being able to do that job and run for office at the same time but I’m going to make a decision when I have a decision to make,” Patrick said.
One thing Patrick said he is sure about is that he won’t appoint himself or run for the Senate seat if it opens up.
After Kennedy’s death, the Legislature for the second time in a decade changed state law to allow for the governor to make an interim appointment followed by a special election within 145 to 160 days. The Democratic-controlled Legislature previously changed the law when they thought Kerry might win the presidency in 2004 to take the power to appoint away from Republican Gov. Mitt Romney.
Patrick said he would prefer to be able to appoint a senator until the next statewide election and avoid a special election, but he said he has no plans to push for another change. “That’s the way a lot of states do it. I wish it were that way here, but I don’t think anybody has any appetite to change it again. I don’t. We’ve got other things to do,” Patrick said.
The governor said Kerry’s potential Cabinet appointment and the Senate race that would follow did not come up when he and his wife Diane were among 14 who dined at the White House Friday night, including President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama.