With LeMieux Pick, the Dawn of a New Era of Appointed Senators
By Paul Kane
George LeMieux, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist's selection to succeed retired Sen. Mel Martinez (R-Fla.), will become the fifth senator this year to take his seat through appointment. A possible sixth appointee is waiting in the wings if Massachusetts leaders change that state's law and allow the governor to make an interim appointment to fill the Senate vacancy left by Edward M. Kennedy's death Tuesday.
In recent times, that's an unusually large number of unelected senators to be holding office at the same time, according to records maintained by the Senate's Historical Office.
Looking back over the last 100 years, however, there were several times when turnover among senators led to the seating of even more appointees than will be serving shortly.
The largest such group took office as part of the Congress that wrapped up World War II, covering 1945 and 1946, when 13 senators were appointed to their seats. In Dwight D. Eisenhower's first two years as president, 1953 and 1954, 10 senators were appointed to office. The pace and extent of the turnover was such that at one point the majority Republicans had fewer seats than the minority Democrats as the two parties fought over how to reorganize the chamber, according to Donald Ritchie, the Senate's associate historian.
What makes this current appointee era so different, Ritchie said, is that historically appointees come to the Senate the same way -- "usually by death." That was the case with Senate Majority Leader Robert A. Taft (R-Ohio), who died in 1953 and was replaced by Thomas A. Burke, a Democrat whose appointment helped create the odd situation of the majority changing hands mid-Congress.
LeMieux, in contrast, will be the fourth appointee to join the Senate for non-health reasons. Martinez retired outright in early August, some 17 months before his term expired, and four other senators -- President Obama, Vice President Joseph Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar -- left the chamber last winter to lead the new administration.
Most often in the past, Ritchie said, a large number of appointed senators signaled a clear change in eras, coming only after a large number of senators grew old in office and passed away while still in the Senate. The most extensive mortality-related turnovers have occurred around the end of the two world wars. During the final years of World War I, in 1917 and 1918, 10 senators were appointed to office.
Some activists do not like the current trend of senators leaving office midterm and having a governor make an interim appointment. Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.) has introduced a constitutional amendment to alter the 17th Amendment, which created the direct election of senators in 1913, to ban the appointment of senators.
The House and Senate judiciary committees' panels on constitutional issues held a hearing on the Feingold proposal in March, but there's been little indication from Democratic leaders that they will take up the issue anytime soon. In fact, Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) is leading a behind-the-scenes effort to change Massachusetts law to allow for an interim appointment to replace Kennedy, in part to assure that Democrats have an extra vote as they consider health-care and climate-change legislation in the fall and winter.
August 28, 2009; 12:58 PM ET
Categories: Senate , What Does It Mean?
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