In an acknowledgment of his grave condition, and that health care reform may be on the rocks, the ailing Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) has asked Governor Deval Patrick and Massachusetts' legislative leaders to change the state's election laws to allow Patrick to appoint a temporary replacement to the Senate in the event of Kennedy's death.
"I strongly support that law and the principle that the people should elect their senator,'' Kennedy wrote in a letter to Patrick
. "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.''
Current law requires the state to hold an election within 160 days (though no sooner than 145 days) in the event of the vacancy. That could leave Kennedy's seat empty--and Democrats shy one vote--for months at a time when every vote may be necessary to pass landmark health care legislation, Kennedy's lifetime cause.
Until 2004, the Massachusetts governor had the power to appoint a semi-permanent replacement in the event of a vacancy, but the legislature changed the law out of concern that Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) would win the presidency, and then-Governor Mitt Romney would replace him with a Republican.
Kennedy was diagnosed with brain cancer in May 2008.