I Heart NY Politics

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I thought that the l'affaire Blagojevich was the best argument for my belief that Senate vacancies should be filled only by special election.  But witnessing what has transpired with Hillary Clinton's Senate seat, I have changed my mind --  New York, not Illinois, should be Exhibit A.

As illustrated by Governor Rod, any institution designed by humans can be corrupted by corrupt individuals. But the process that let to Kirsten Gillibrand's appointment shows that gubernatorial Senate appointments are a bad idea even when otherwise decent and well-meaning people are involved. 

I have no particular beef with Senator-appoint Gillibrand.  By all accounts, she is a talented up-and-comer.  Her centrism will probably be a boost both to New York and to the Democratic ticket in 2010.  But the average New Yorker certainly knows far less about her than they do about Caroline Kennedy, Carolyn Maloney, Andrew Cuomo, or any of the other leading contenders. 

Although I never thought it was a good idea to appoint Kennedy to the seat, there is something terribly unseemly about the insinuations and innuendo that are now flying back and forth between her people and Patterson's people.  Whether she had a nanny or tax problem, wouldn't it have been better to have it in the open before a voting public rather than have David Patterson be the judge and jury about whether it disqualified her from office?

It will be interesting to see whether Carolyn McCarthy carries through with her threat to challenge Gillibrand in the Democratic primary over her support for gun rights.  Based on DW-NOMINATE scores, Gillibrand is the most conservative Democrat in the NY delgation while McCarthy is 4th most (of 23).  So I suspect guns is one of only a handful of issues that divide them.  It is not in the Democratic Party's best interest to have a contested primary focused exclusively on gun control.   

6 Comments

So say we went with a special election for Senate seats - how long do you think that would take? Would we need a special primary? How long would the campaign be? And what would the effect be on the NY state delegation? In this case, I would assume the campaign could not begin until Clinton had resigned. So we start a campaign now, and we know that a bunch of NY House Reps decide to run. So we've got a month with no Senator from NY, and then a large number of house reps busy with an election. Maybe in NY this matters less, but could you imagine a state like NM, where all three house reps decide to run for an open Senate seat? The state could have almost no representation in DC for a month. Maybe that's better than the current situation, but it does seem that if we did this we'd get all sorts of critiques about "post-election elections", and ultimately it might make presidents very unlikely to appoint Senators to cabinet positions. Now maybe that's a good idea, but I'd have to think that would end up being an unintended consequence. I bet we'd also get lower turnout in these elections, which would lead us right back to the question of the legitimacy of the mandate.

And maybe this answers the question from the last discussion of this issue on your blog - why it works for the House and not the Senate: members of the House will want to run for an open Senate seat, but that's not the case in the other direction.

Again, not against this in principle, but just curious about how it would actually play out.

As you, an eminent scholar of comparative politics, must know, most nations can put on a snap general election in six weeks. So I don't think it would take that long to hold a special election. As Oregon has proven, the election could even be held effectively by mail.

I'm not sure that a temporary lack of representation is that big a deal. For example, I'm unaware of any studies that suggest the impact on pork would be large enough to worry about. The partisan balance would obviously be affected by my proposal. But I think those effects are not so large either.

I do think a case could be made for an interim appointed senator who would serve as a caretaker during a six-week election period. That he/she would only serve for six weeks would lower the stakes sufficiently to dampen some of the egregious behavior we've seen over the past couple of months.

By all accounts Gillibrand is a barracuda (pardon the Palinesque reference) when it comes to campaigning. I'm not sure McCarthy will want any piece of Gillibrand in a primary - especially after she's spent two years in the Senate raising money.

Nolan, I never thought I'd see Russ Feingold as your knight in shining armor, but looks like maybe we'll get a chance to see what the world looks like with special elections required for all Senate seats. This post by Nate Silver at fivethirtyeight.com is pretty interesting for two reasons:

http://www.fivethirtyeight.com/2009/01/feingold-introduces-28th-amendment.html

First, it suggests that this might be one of the few constitutional amendments that are likely to pass. Do you agree? Second, it provides some really useful data as to the rules that are currently on the books in different states.

By the way, in the limited reports I've seen on the Feingold proposal, there does not seem to any mention of the useful idea of an interim Senator that you mentioned in your last blog post, so you might want to try to get that idea out to someone involved in the discussion.

Feingold's politics are mavericky enough that I suppose that its inevitable that I agree with him once in a while. I'm not sure I endorse the short-term interim senator idea except as a way to placate those who would complain about the lack of representation during the election period. It is interesting though that several states have that provision.

I've got now some more systematically organized comments on this topic posted on the Arena at Politico.com (http://tinyurl.com/bu5qhj), in case anyone is still interested.

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