Another Seat Warmer
New Hampshire adds to the list of arguments against gubernatorial Senate appointments.

Friday, February 6, 2009

THE PRESIDENT continued his raid on the U.S. Senate on Tuesday by nominating Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) to become commerce secretary. This gave another governor -- the fifth since November -- the chance to appoint a senator. And this gives us another opportunity to bemoan this undemocratic practice. J. Bonnie Newman, the choice to replace Mr. Gregg, appears to be held in high regard in the Granite State. But voters there should have had a direct say in who represents them in Washington.

Our confidence in this view was only enhanced by the way in which Ms. Newman got the nod from New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch. Mr. Gregg brokered a deal with the Democratic governor to have the remaining two years of his term filled by a Republican. Had Mr. Lynch chosen a Democrat, the party would have been one seat away from achieving a 60-vote, filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. Instead, he chose Ms. Newman, an academic who was Mr. Gregg's chief of staff in the 1980s and who held senior positions in the administrations of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. Mr. Lynch announced that Ms. Newman would not run for a full term when the seat is up for election in 2010 and would not endorse a candidate in that race.

In short, Ms. Newman is a seat warmer. As is Delaware's Sen. Ted Kaufman (D), who immediately announced that he would not seek election to a full term in 2010 when he was named to fill Vice President Biden's former seat. Mr. Biden's son, Beau, is expected to run for the seat upon his return from National Guard duty in Iraq. It's this practice, plus the attempted auctioning of the seat from Illinois and the opaque selection process in New York, that makes the constitutional amendment proposed by Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) to end gubernatorial appointments in favor of special elections worthy of serious discussion. Wisconsin, Oregon and Massachusetts are the only states that require special elections; Maryland is among seven states entertaining legislation to do the same.

In the House, Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Ill.) has introduced a bill that would require a special election within 90 days of a vacancy. Governors could still make appointments, but the lucky person who is chosen would have to stand for election to stay in office after that period. The federal government would reimburse states for 50 percent of reasonable costs related to the election. Is Mr. Schock's bill constitutional? Is Mr. Feingold's amendment practical? Let's have some hearings and find out.

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