More questions about vacancies...

by Matthew Morse // Published February 4, 2009

"Now is not a time for partisanship." This is a line we've all heard frequently come from inside the beltway, often with questionable sincerity.

But when Judd Gregg, newly nominated Commerce Secretary, said this at a press conference today it was especially ironic. And it's not because Gregg is a partisan hack or was trying to score political points – signing onto a rival party's administration is something I'd like to see more, but the highly partisan maneuvering by his party and the New Hampshire Governor highlighted one of the problems that we've seen frequently these past few weeks: filling U.S. Senate vacancies.

We're all too familiar with the recent rancor surrounding appointments to Senate seats vacated by Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. In both cases, the state governors had complete control to appoint anyone to the position without democratic process or consultation with his constituents. In the case of Rod Blagojevich, he did so despite heavy opposition and being under investigation for trying to sell that same seat.

Senator Gregg's case has received far less notoriety, however. Senator Gregg is a Republican and the governor of New Hampshire is a Democrat. This means that under normal circumstances, a Democrat could (and probably would) be appointed to any vacated seat. To avoid this, Gregg, Gov. Lynch, the GOP, and President Obama reached an agreement whereby a Republican would be appointed to the seat, but she promised to only serve two years and not run for reelection. This is another perfect example of a need for reforms to require vacated Senate seats to be filled by special election.

Exactly why shouldn't the voters of New Hampshire be able to decide for themselves what party their Senator is, let alone who serves in the position? Furthermore, what if the voters of New Hampshire come to the conclusion that they love Bonnie Newman (their future Senator) and want her to stay on for another term? Why should their right to choose their senator be usurped by political gamesmanship? Finally, why is it that this agreement established partisan loyalty as a binary option with no nuance or consideration for different policy positions within a political party? Surely, moderate-minded voters of New Hampshire would not be happy with a Senator Tom Tancredo any more than conservative Oklahomans or Texans would be happy with a moderate or liberal Republican to take a vacancy in their state.