They Didn't Stop to Think if They Should

by Paul Fidalgo // Published October 16, 2009

With great power comes great responsibility, as the movie Spider-Man teaches us. Democrats in Massachusetts should heed this lesson. The Boston Globe is reporting today that there apparently exists narrow margins in both houses of the state legislature to give Gov. Deval Patrick the power to appoint an interim U.S. Senator to replace the late Sen. Ted Kennedy until a special election is held. This would in effect be a reversal of the law passed in 2004 that mandated a special election for Senate vacancies, removing appointment power from the governor. It was a change that was fairer, more democratic, and respected the will of the people of Massachusetts.

It was also a blatantly partisan move, as Democrats were trying to ensure that if Sen. John Kerry was elected president, Republican governor Mitt Romney would not get to choose his successor. But despite its less-than-noble intentions, the substance was spot-on: no U.S. Senator should serve without being elected by the people of their state. (See our press release on this topic.)

But now that there is a Democrat in the governor's office, the legislature is doubling back. Less afraid of a Republican win in a special election, some in Massachusetts simply worry that the state will lose national influence as it waits to elect the second half of its Senate delegation. But there would be nothing wrong with changing the law so that the election happens earlier (which is now mandated to be held off for an astounding 145 days), or implementing instant runoff voting to wrap the primary and general election into one, saving even more time (and money), and ensuring majority consensus.

Unfortunately, it's looking more and more like Massachusetts lawmakers are going to remake the law, just 'cause they can. And who knows--if the Bay State happens to have another GOP governor when Sen. Kerry decides to retire, maybe they'll change the rules again. Having the power to do something does not equal having a good reason to do so. Or, to quote another blockbuster movie, we look to Jeff Goldblum's character in Jurassic Park, who warns us:

. . . Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn't stop to think if they should!

I'm sure there's an undemocratic-law-as-Tyrannosaurus-Rex metaphor here, but it escapes me.