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Topic A -- Who Should Replace Sen. Edward Kennedy

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Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Post asked political experts and analysts who should replace Edward M. Kennedy in the Senate. Below are contributions from Robert Reich, Douglas E. Schoen, James Kirchick, Jane M. Swift, Jarrett T. Barrios and Jennifer A. Nassour.

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ROBERT REICH

Secretary of labor from 1993 to 1997; candidate for governor of Massachusetts in 2002

Massachusetts is blessed with an overabundance of talented and dedicated politicians. I know many of them. But by my lights, Joe Kennedy -- Joseph P. Kennedy II -- would be the best replacement for the irreplaceable Ted Kennedy. I say this not because Joe has the same last name but because Joe has a similar passion for social justice.

I met Joe almost 20 years ago, when he was coaching a kids' soccer team my son was on. I was impressed by his dedication to those kids. He encouraged them when they were down, pushed them when they were up, joked with them, cared about them. Years later I worked with Joe when he was a member of Congress representing Massachusetts's 8th District. I recall how hard and selflessly he worked on behalf of the poor and working class. He created hundreds of thousands of affordable homes and overhauled public housing laws so local housing authorities could raise standards. After he left Congress, Joe returned to Citizens Energy, a nonprofit he founded in 1979 to provide discounted heating oil to low-income families. He's been at it ever since.

Politics is a tough business, especially for those who want to change the status quo and fight for those who have very little. Ted Kennedy was a master at this. I've never known anyone who fought harder. My sense is that Joe is as tough, cares as much and will fight just as hard.

DOUGLAS E. SCHOEN

Democratic pollster and author

There's a compelling argument for naming a Kennedy to the interim seat the Massachusetts legislature is likely to create to fill the five-month period until the special election, but there's a much less compelling argument to elect a Kennedy for the remaining two years of Ted Kennedy's term.

With health care on the front burner, and with the late senator so clearly identified with the issue, it is certainly appropriate that someone from his family see this matter to a conclusion. There is no shortage of possible Kennedy candidates. His widow, Vicki, has demurred, but efforts should be made to change her mind. Should she prove unwilling, either former representative Joe Kennedy or Ted's son, Ted Jr., would be well-situated to fill the seat on an interim basis. Former Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis or close Kennedy adviser Paul Kirk might also try to achieve consensus on health-care legislation as a fitting tribute.

But if a Kennedy runs in the January election, that will almost certainly deter many of the most-qualified candidates, such as Reps. Stephen Lynch, Michael Capuano and Ed Markey or state Attorney General Martha Coakley. The special election should spark a robust debate on foreign and domestic policy that will aid the country and the Obama administration. Yet if, for example, Joe Kennedy were to run, the election would inevitably become more personal. It would focus on Kennedy's controversial energy assistance program, which involves a partnership with Venezuela's Hugo Chávez, and his divorce, rather than the critical issues that should get a full airing in what will be the first Senate election of campaign 2010.

JAMES KIRCHICK

Assistant editor of The New Republic

In Massachusetts there exists a subspecies of the "Yellow Dog Democrat," that partisan breed that would vote for any Democrat -- even a jaundiced canine -- over a Republican. It is a Kennedy Democrat, and it denotes those people who will vote for anyone with the last name Kennedy.

So it is that former representative Joe Kennedy, Robert's oldest son, has emerged as the front runner to succeed his late uncle Ted. Too bad that he is a flack for Hugo Chávez, whose regime gives discounted heating oil to Kennedy's nonprofit to score propaganda points in the United States. And too bad that, before that, he was a particularly obnoxious supporter of Irish Republicanism. Neither will adversely affect Kennedy's chances; after all, his uncle got away with far worse. Remember that seven days after Ted Kennedy drove his car off Dike Bridge on Chappaquiddick Island, abandoning Mary Jo Kopechne, he asked the people of Massachusetts if he should resign his Senate seat or remain in office. By a margin of 10 to 1, his constituents urged him to stay. This was long before Kennedy earned a reputation as a skilled legislator, bipartisan compromiser and all the other attributes for which he was recently praised. All he was at the time was a Kennedy, and not even a particularly gifted one at that.

Joe is even less gifted. Though it's depressingly clear that the people of Massachusetts will vote for a Kennedy no matter how debased, they would be better served to vote for anyone but a Kennedy -- even a yellow dog.

JANE M. SWIFT

Former Republican governor of Massachusetts

The Democratic Massachusetts legislature is -- outrageously -- considering changing the rules to allow the governor to appoint a temporary successor. If this happens, the governor should appoint someone who best represents what the voters chose when they reelected Ted Kennedy. The only person who fits that bill -- who would hit the ground running and seek only to carry on Kennedy's work temporarily instead of pursuing political ambitions -- is Victoria Reggie Kennedy.

In choosing a permanent replacement, Massachusetts voters should recognize the important role Ted Kennedy played in forging compromise. The Bay State can promote bipartisanship if we send a moderate to replace Kennedy -- a Massachusetts version of Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe. President Obama's difficulties passing the sort of moderate policies he pledged during the campaign are largely due to the composition of the Senate -- Kennedy's willingness to forge compromise is the exception and not the rule. It is counterintuitive, but electing a moderate Republican from Massachusetts would help Obama move mainstream policy.

JARRETT T. BARRIOS

President of Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation and former Massachusetts state senator

Ted Kennedy's last big campaign -- against Mitt Romney in 1994 -- used the slogan "His voice is always heard." I'd add this: He heard every voice. Candidate X won't fill Teddy's shoes, but if he or she deserves to win it'll be because he or she has that remarkable decency that so defined Kennedy to the world, and that made it possible for him to hear all of us.

The next senator must show the voters of Massachusetts that he or she is capable of more than just mimicking Kennedy's positions and more than promising to "be a fighter like Kennedy." Like Kennedy, this person should be unflinching about using a senator's influence to give voice to the voiceless among us -- to immigrants; gay and transgender people; racial and ethnic minorities; and the poor of any color, creed or character.

Of all the candidates speculated about, the one who fits that bill best is also named Kennedy: Joe Kennedy, my former representative. Since serving 12 years in Congress, he has been helping poor people get subsidized heating oil through his nonprofit Citizens Energy. Not glamorous, but like his uncle Teddy, unswervingly focused on benefiting those with the least. That's something we could use more of in the Senate.

JENNIFER A. NASSOUR

Chairman of the Massachusetts Republican Party

The next U.S. senator from Massachusetts should be elected by the state's voters, as our state law mandates: The voice of the people is to be heard through a timely special election. In 2004, the Massachusetts legislature stripped appointment authority from Gov. Mitt Romney when it thought Sen. John Kerry had a chance of winning the White House and it did not want a Republican governor appointing a Republican senator. Just as this was a blatantly political move then, a reversal would be blatantly political now.

The people of Massachusetts should not be bound by the political wants of U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who is bullying our legislature to change our state law. Reid supported stripping the governor of appointment power in 2004 and calling for a special election, but he now supports the opposite. Why has Reid flip-flopped? To avoid losing his filibuster-proof majority in the Senate and the possible defeat of unpopular health-care reform.

Democrats should not change the law for purely self-serving interests as circumstances shift. Reversing laws to suit their political whims is an assault on democracy and an affront to Massachusetts voters.


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