What Next in Massachusetts?

As Edward Kennedy was mourned and laid to rest over the weekend, talk about what will happen to his open Senate seat grew louder.

On Friday, there were reports that the Massachusetts legislature would follow Kennedy’s final wish and change the five-year-old Senate succession law.  Such a change would permit Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick to appoint an interim senator until the special election is held no earlier than 145 days after Kennedy’s death and no more than 160 days. (That means in January).

This would be the second Democratic opportunistic change to the law.  The last time – when Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry might have vacated his seat for the presidency — the Democratic legislature took the power of gubernatorial appointment away from then-governor Mitt Romney.

Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) encouraged the Bay State lawmakers to give the governor power to appoint a senator.  Reid seemed to be speaking for many national Democrats on Thursday when he voiced the feeling that as many Democratic votes as possible were needed in the Senate if Obama-backed health care reform comes to a vote before January.  

On Thursday, there was speculation that if the rules change was passed, Gov. Patrick might appoint a “senior statesman” such as former governor and 1988 Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis to serve in the Senate until January.  By Friday night, however, speculation on a stopgap senator seemed to move toward former Democratic National Chairman Paul Kirk, Jr.  As Joe Kennedy noted in his remarks about his uncle, Kirk had been a close friend of Ted Kennedy since his first Senate race in 1962.  

Few in Massachusetts would think the state legislature is not shameless enough to reverse itself in four years for blatantly political reasons.  But sources in Boston said that there were a number of Democratic legislators — notably State Sen. Brian Joyce — having jitters about a reversal that is that self-serving.  The Boston Herald’s columnist Howie Carr was his usual cynical self when he concluded: “Ultimately, there’s nothing in the bill [to permit a Senate appointment] for the Legislature, so we must assume it won’t be passed.”  

Three Dems Are Cinches to Run

The worst-kept political secret among Massachusetts Democrats is that State Attorney General Martha Coakley would be a candidate if a Senate seat ever opened up.  She is the lone woman mentioned for the Senate and the sole prospective Senate hopeful to have already won statewide.  Money will be no problem for her, since she can count dollars nationwide from the pro-abortion EMILY’s List.

Among the Massachusetts Democratic House delegation, Reps. Steve Lynch of South Boston and Mike Capuano of Somerville are considered certain candidates in the special election.  Lynch is a “moderate,” which in Massachusetts means that he is pro-life and against gay marriage.  Capuano is firmly on the left on every issue.

Could other Democrats get in the race? Sure. But for now, Coakley, Lynch, and Capuano are clearly in the running.

Speculation about Joe Kennedy running rises and falls.  Republicans would privately love to see him run, as they would have a field day with Kennedy’s ties to Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez and questions about how much the former congressman has been making from his company that provides oil to lower income citizens.  

Then, again, the Senate seat has been in the hands of a Kennedy for all but two years since Jack won it in 1952.  That was 1960-62, after JFK resigned to become President and family friend Benjamin Smith took it over until Ted turned 30 and was constitutionally eligible to be a senator.  As Howie Carr observed, Joe “[p]robably wouldn’t mind keeping the seat warm for his red-headed twin son Joe IV [who turns 30 in November 2010].”

Healey Sends Signals; Beatty Salutes Fellow Vet

Among Republicans, there were reports last week that former lieutenant governor and 2006 gubernatorial nominee Kerry Healey was sounding out prospective supporters for a Senate race.  A former state party chairman, liberal GOPer Healey is the wife of Sean Healey who heads Affiliated Partners Group, an asset management company, and is apparently worth over $100 million.  He is a former vice president of Goldman Sachs.  

While Kerry Healey would presumably use her husband’s wealth in a campaign, GOP sources I talked to her have serious reservations about Mitt Romney’s lieutenant governor as a candidate.  They pointed out that when she ran for governor against Democrat Patrick in ’06, she got the worst showing (35%) of a Republican gubernatorial nominee since 1986, when a scandal forced out the Republican nominee and George Kariotis became the substitute nominee and got 31% against Dukakis.

Running as an unabashed conservative, decorated veteran and security company owner Jeff Beatty got about the same percentage against Sen. Kerry in ’08.  Some would argue that this is not impressive.  But Beatty enthusiasts point out that their man had little money and managed to energize the GOP base by simply being himself — a conservative.  

When I reached Beatty on Friday, he wasn’t talking politics.  In a rare act in politics, the former GOP Senate hopeful had returned from the JFK Library where he paid his respects to someone he disagreed with on every issue.

“I was there to say farewell to someone who served in the military and who provided outstanding constituent service to people in our state,” Beatty told me, recalling how he spoke to numerous Kennedys, Shrivers, and Smiths.  “And when I passed the senator, I saluted him.”

As for another Senate race, Beatty said he would call with his intentions “after a respectable period” — an obvious reference to Healey’s apparent start.

Other GOP prospects mentioned are former State Party Chairman Jim Rappaport and former U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan.  All that remains to be said is, “stay tuned.”