The Boston Globe reported today that Senator Ted Kennedy, in a letter, “has privately asked the governor and legislative leaders to change the succession law to guarantee that Massachusetts will not lack a Senate vote when his seat becomes vacant.”
In a personal, sometimes wistful letter sent Tuesday to Governor Deval L. Patrick, Senate President Therese Murray, and House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo, Kennedy asks that Patrick be given authority to appoint someone to the seat temporarily before voters choose a new senator in a special election.
Although Kennedy, who is battling brain cancer, does not specifically mention his illness or the health care debate raging in Washington, the implication of his letter is clear: He is trying to make sure that the leading cause in his life, better health coverage for all, advances in the event of his death.
The succession law in Massachusetts was changed in 2004, when Kerry was runing for president. Kennedy said in his letter “that he backs the current succession law, enacted in 2004, which gives voters the power to fill a US Senate vacancy. But he said the state and country need two Massachusetts senators.”
Kennedy advisors have said that the timing of Kennedy’s letter “did not reflect any imminent emergency in the health of the senator, who has been battling brain cancer since May 2008.” And a confidant of the Kennedy family has “stressed that even with his deteriorating health, Kennedy continues to speak with staff and Senate colleagues.”
If his vote were needed, there exists every possibility he would fly to Washington again to cast it, Kennedy allies said.
Still, Kennedy’s letter is a candid acknowledgment that his long Senate career might be coming to an end, a historic development for both Massachusetts and the nation. He is the last of three Kennedy brothers whose careers helped define postwar Democratic politics.
John Kerry said in an interivew yesterday, “It is something he talked to me about some time ago.”
Kerry rejected any notion that the letter signaled an immediate end to Kennedy’s nearly half-century in office, insisting that his colleague has been active in shaping the health care legislation in recent weeks.
“I don’t think this signals anything,’’ Kerry said. “He has been fully engaged. . . . If Harry Reid required 60 votes tomorrow, Ted Kennedy would be on a plane and be down in the Senate to vote.’’
In the midst of the health care reform debate, Democrats are feeling Kennedy’s absence from the fight:
Insiders say that Kennedy, and maybe Kennedy alone, has the stature to help President Barack Obama bridge the gap between liberals who insist on a government-run option and moderates who remain fearful of the cost — and even bring along some Republican support as well.
It’s hard to imagine that there may not be a Kennedy in the Senate in the near future. In his letter Kennedy had this to say on his nearly 47-year career in the Senate:
I am proud of the contribution our Commonwealth has made to the great debates of our time and out national history. I believe the voices and views of those we have elected to the Senate and House of Representatives have shaped America’s progress–from the days of John Adam and Daniel Webster to the present. . . . Serving the people of Massachusetts in the United States Senate has been–and still is–the greatest honor of my public life.