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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.

By Paul Kane  |  August 28, 2009; 12:58 PM ET
Categories:  Senate , What Does It Mean?  
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Next: Liberal Groups Call for Appointee in Mass.

Comments

I've said it before and I'll say it again:

No appointments - ELECT the replacement Senators! Let them fill out the remainder of the term!
No Electoral College - ELECT the Presidnt directly!

Posted by: hobsry7350 | August 28, 2009 4:37 PM | Report abuse

Elections are costly and time consuming. Better to amend the Constitution to reflect the pre-17th Amendment process: allow governors to appoint an interim senator who is prohibited from running for the seat in the next election, but the appointee must be approved by a majority vote of the state legislature (both houses, if bicameral).

Posted by: SUMB44 | August 28, 2009 4:38 PM | Report abuse

They're a cute couple.

Posted by: thebobbob | August 28, 2009 4:40 PM | Report abuse

NOW, IF THERE WERE ONLY WAYS TO APPOINT A REPLACEMENT FOR QUEEN PELOSI AND LIEUTENANT FRANKS.

Posted by: scootboo2737 | August 28, 2009 4:55 PM | Report abuse

to SCOOTBOO2737:
Unless you are a resident of San Francisco and there is a provision in the California Constitution allowing it, you can ask for a recall of Pelosi, though, for the most part, they fail. I know about the Nazi Scwartznegger, but that was an exception to the rule.
to SUMB44:
Elections are meant to limit the problem of a RepubliKKKan govenor and legislature and the vacancy of a Democratic vacancy from a prior election. RepubliKKKans appoint RepubliKKKans! Mebbe the State WANTS a Democratic Senator!

Posted by: hobsry7350 | August 28, 2009 5:10 PM | Report abuse

Can anyone remember the old movie, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, played by Jimmy Stewart? It is a long tradition for governors to appointment a replacement. It is one of the few really important perks someone has being elected governor.

Let's suppose we had to have an election to replace Martinez. Each party would have to spend at least 20 million dollars to elect a short timer in office. It would be a poor return on the dollar. Leave the system alone. It works just fine. Who knows, we might get a Mr. Smith. God knows we need one until we wise up and put in term limits.

Posted by: alance | August 28, 2009 6:07 PM | Report abuse

This is an excellent piece, digging into historical data it would take curious readers a year or more to collect on their own.

It seems to me the bottom line is that our political elites are ever more inclined to manipulate the electoral system by means other than persuading voters, or manipulating them.

I suppose the history goes like this:

1) Only property holders can vote. Persuade them.

2) Just about everyone can vote.
Manipulate them.

3) The Hell with the voters. Game the system.

To quote Yakov Smirnoff, "Is this a great country, or what?"

Posted by: douglaslbarber | August 28, 2009 6:39 PM | Report abuse

This is all a direct result of the problems created by the 17th Amendment. The right approach is to repeal it outright, not modify it and continue to accept the 1913 Progressive view of the Senate. Just as in Massachusetts following the death of Senator Kennedy, the Florida legislature should meet (at no additional cost to the people of Florida) and elect a representative of the legislature's interests. This would be the method the Framers rightly intended, and the method that successfully restrained the national government - and provided us with temperate government for more than 120 years. http://www.restorefederalism.org

Posted by: EmpFab | August 29, 2009 9:49 PM | Report abuse

Those in Florida know that LeMieux is nothing more than a seat-warmer for Crist, who plans to run for the seat. LeMieux is a lobbyist and Crist loyalist (his campaign manager) who has NEVER been elected to ANY position - ever.

Crist cut of Florida's head and is #&^) down its neck right now...

Posted by: HecticEclectic | August 31, 2009 10:03 AM | Report abuse

Appointments to a vacant Senate seat are certainly less obtrusive than appointing socialists to positions of Czar that have no historical precedent, do not report to the voters and further, serve no purpose other than to implement radical social welfare policies. Where is the outrage?

Posted by: dougmcdougal | August 31, 2009 3:10 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
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