Furor Over Senate Seat Not Unique to Illinois
By John Gramlich, Staff Writer
Gubernatorial powers to appoint U.S. senators
*Note: Some states specify that appointments must be made within designated time frames
Source: National Conference of State Legislatures
Allegations that Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) offered to sell President-elect Barack Obama's U.S. Senate seat have fueled calls for state lawmakers to strip the governor of his appointment power and hold a special election instead.
But the scandal in Illinois - which has dominated national headlines since Blagojevich's Dec. 9 arrest on corruption charges - is far from the first time that the process of replacing a U.S. senator has generated political intrigue.
Past controversies highlight the political quagmire that could await governors in the three states besides Illinois - Colorado, Delaware and New York - where U.S. senators are likely to move on to new jobs next year as a result of Obama's election.
In Alaska in 2002, newly elected Gov. Frank Murkowski (R) appointed his daughter, Lisa, to the Senate seat he himself had vacated. The move caused such an uproar that both the Legislature and later voters - through a ballot measure approved in 2004 - took away the governor's appointment power. Alaska now holds elections to choose substitute senators, and Murkowski later was voted out of office in a Republican primary, losing to current Gov. Sarah Palin.
In Massachusetts in 2004, Democratic lawmakers - worried then-Gov. Mitt Romney would appoint a fellow Republican to Democratic Sen. John Kerry's seat if Kerry won the presidential election - stripped Romney of his power to do so. Voting on the proposal - which replaced the appointment process with a special election - broke sharply along partisan lines.
Meanwhile, some governors have raised eyebrows by taking over vacant Senate seats themselves.
Then-Minnesota Gov. Wendell Anderson (D) resigned in 1976 only so his successor could name him to the Senate seat vacated by the newly elected vice president, Walter Mondale. Then-Oklahoma Gov. J. Howard Edmondson did the same in 1963; Oklahoma since has stripped its governor of the power to make Senate appointments. In Illinois, Blagojevich suggested he would take Obama's seat himself unless he was compensated by an interested party, according to a federal affidavit released after the governor's arrest.
In all, nine governors have taken over vacant Senate seats themselves by asking their successors to appoint them, according to the U.S. Senate Historical Office (see chart below). But the self-appointments have been politically treacherous: eight of nine failed to win re-election. Only Albert Chandler, a Kentucky Democrat, was successful, winning election in 1940.
Nationally, all but five states - Alaska, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, Oregon and Wisconsin - allow their governors to name replacements to the Senate, according to an analysis of state elections laws by the National Conference of State Legislatures (see chart at right).
In three of the states in which governors can name replacements - Arizona, Hawaii and Wyoming - the chief executive must appoint someone from the same political party as the seat being vacated, a stipulation designed to prevent political tampering.
Democratic Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal was the last governor to fill a Senate seat held by the opposing party. Freudenthal last year chose Republican John Barrasso - one of three nominees submitted to him by the state GOP, as provided by state law - to replace Sen. Craig Thomas, who died of leukemia complications. Barrasso retained the seat in a special election in November and will serve the remainder of Thomas' term, which expires in 2013.
In Alaska, Republicans have proven proficient at keeping open Senate seats in their camp. Before abolishing gubernatorial appointments in the wake of the Murkowski furor, the GOP-dominated Legislature in 1968 changed state law to allow then-Gov. Wally Hickel (R) to name a Republican to a seat last held by a Democrat. In 1998, Republicans changed the law again to prevent then-Gov. Tony Knowles from appointing a fellow Democrat to a Republican seat, according to published accounts.
This election cycle, governors in at least two states besides Illinois - Colorado and New York - still must choose replacements for senators who have been tapped for Obama's Cabinet (if the senators are confirmed for their new roles). A third, outgoing Delaware Gov. Ruth Ann Minner (D), already chose Ted Kaufman, an adviser to Vice President-elect Joseph Biden, to take over Biden's seat until a special election can be held in 2010.
Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter (D) has pledged to move quickly to find a replacement for Sen. Ken Salazar (D), who was chosen by Obama to lead the Interior Department. Among the potential replacements is John Salazar, the senator's brother and a member of the U.S. House of Representatives.
New York Gov. David Paterson (D) - himself a replacement for former Gov. Eliot Spitzer (D), who resigned after a sex scandal in March - will name a new senator to the seat vacated by Hillary Rodham Clinton (D), who was nominated as Obama's secretary of state.
Among the high-profile Democrats in the running to become the next senator from New York are Andrew Cuomo, the state's attorney general, and Caroline Kennedy, the daughter of President John F. Kennedy.
While vacancies or potential vacancies in the exclusive, 100-member Senate always generate buzz over who might take over - last year's bathroom arrest of Idaho's Larry Craig (R), for example, set off immediate (and premature) speculation - this year's appointments are drawing even more scrutiny than usual because of Blagojevich's arrest.
Indeed, the Blagojevich scandal even has sparked debate in states without a Senate vacancy over whether their procedures for naming replacements should be altered.
Citing the Blagojevich allegations, Connecticut Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz (D) and state Rep. James Spallone (D) this month called for a new law that would strip the governor of the power to appoint a senator. But the proposal was not received warmly by Gov. M. Jodi Rell - a Republican - who through a spokesman accused Bysiewicz of an "overtly political maneuver," the Hartford Courant reported.
In Massachusetts, Gov. Deval Patrick (D) last month suggested that he would be open to reverting to the state's former system, which allowed the governor to choose a replacement. But Patrick tempered his comments by saying he would not push for such a law, and leaders in the Democratic legislature have said they have no intention of pursuing a change.
|John E. Erickson||Montana||Democrat||1933|
|Albert B. Chandler||Kentucky||Democrat||1939|
|Charles C. Gossett||Idaho||Democrat||1945|
| Edward P. Carville
| John J. Hickey
| Edwin L. Mechem
|| New Mexico
| J. Howard Edmondson
| Donald S. Russell
|| South Carolina
| Wendell R. Anderson
Source: U.S. Senate Historical Office