Andy Metzger and Michael Norton
State House News Service
---- — BOSTON — Assuming that U.S. Sen. John Kerry clears his Senate confirmation to become U.S. Secretary of State, the 145-to-160-day countdown to a special election would be triggered by his letter of resignation, Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin says.
And with President Barack Obama having formally nominated Kerry to the post on Friday, Galvin said he was “delighted” for Kerry and said he expects bipartisan agreement that Kerry is qualified to succeed Hillary Clinton.
But Galvin began a Friday meeting with reporters by saying, “Here we go again,” referring to the process leading up to filling Kerry’s seat until it comes up for full re-election in November 2014.
Galvin said the Legislature has been clear in its determination to keep the latest iteration of its succession law unchanged, and said that the law worked well following the death of U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy.
“I think the election worked out well, maybe not well for my party, the last time. We had over 2 million people participate,” Galvin said, referring to the January 2010 special election that sent U.S. Sen. Scott Brown to Washington.
“There’s a little more flexibility this time” because Kerry will select the date of his resignation, he said.
Gov. Deval Patrick would set the date of the election, Galvin said.
“I’m glad for Sen. Kerry, for Massachusetts, and for the country,” Galvin said.
Galvin said he thought Kerry would take office in January, shortly after Obama is sworn in for a second term on Jan. 21.
“Traditionally, the Cabinet takes office almost immediately after the president is re-sworn,” Galvin said. He said, “It’s unlikely that there will be much delay.”
Galvin said that it is technically possible for Patrick not to appoint an interim senator, and said there is no legal restriction that bars an interim for running for the office.
“Anybody the governor appointed could be a candidate. There’s no prohibition on it,” Galvin said.
Galvin said Brown “certainly has the right to be a candidate should he choose to be.”
Asked about Victoria Kennedy as a possible interim, Galvin said, “I think she’s a wonderful person. If she wants to be the interim candidate – there are many competent people who the governor has to choose from. But that’s really his choice.”
Patrick was hosting a Cabinet meeting Friday morning but is expected to talk to reporters after the White House announcement.
Brown is seen as a likely candidate. Republican William Weld also just moved back to Massachusetts and there’s speculation that he may run if Brown does not.
Among Democrats, state Sen. Benjamin Downing is interested as are members of the Congressional delegation, including Reps. Edward Markey, Niki Tsongas, Stephen Lynch and Michael Capuano. David Simas, a former top aide to Gov. Deval Patrick and President Obama, is reportedly considering the race and there are reports that Edward Kennedy Jr, son of the late senator, is giving the race consideration.
The interim appointee holds the spot until a special election, which must be held between 145 to 160 days after the vacancy. That points to a possible special election in June 2013, with the winner facing the prospect of running for reelection in November 2014.
A letter of resignation creates a vacancy, under state law, even if the resignation is not effective until a later date. The date of the election to fill a vacancy “shall be after the resignation is effective,” the law states.
Patrick has repeatedly said he would prefer to appoint someone for the remainder of the Senate term rather than make an interim appointment – which was the case under previous state law before 2004.
When Kerry ran for president, the Legislature changed the law to allow for a special election in order to prevent Gov. Mitt Romney from appointing a successor for the remainder of the six-year term.
Lawmakers changed the law again in 2009, after Sen. Kennedy died, to allow Patrick to make an interim appointment until a special election was held. Patrick named Paul Kirk as the interim appointee, with Kirk appealing following his stint in Washington for more bipartisanship among his colleagues.