Allison Kilkenny: Unreported

Don’t Name That Senator

Posted in Barack Obama, politics by allisonkilkenny on January 25, 2009

David Segal

image4749710xNOW that Gov. David Paterson of New York has completed his operatic quest to fill Hillary Clinton’s Senate seat and Roland Burris, chosen by the embattled Illinois governor to succeed Barack Obama, has made it past Capitol Hill security, we can safely conclude that appointing senators might not be such a good idea.

Actually, Americans came to that conclusion in 1913, when the 17th Amendment mandated regular senatorial elections. Reformers pushed the amendment as an antidote to the inevitable cronyism that surrounded the selections. In essence, however, it just allowed governors to pick replacements, as opposed to state legislatures.

The very problems the amendment was meant to address persist. Consider this: Nearly a quarter of the United States senators who have taken office since the 17th Amendment took effect have done so via appointment. Once Representative Kirsten Gillibrand, Mr. Paterson’s choice, joins the Senate, she will be one of more than 180 senators named by governors since 1913.

By contrast, the Constitution mandates special elections for all vacancies in the House — even though representatives are far less powerful than senators.

Yet only a handful of states routinely fill vacated Senate seats by special election. The result is a tyranny of appointments.

This is bad for the legislature, and the constituents. Even when appointments are not explicitly put up for sale, a governor’s deliberations are surely informed by political expediency and personal ambition. (It would be impossible to look at the New York debacle and not think otherwise.) And even when the process is explicitly political and maybe even corrupt, as appears to be the case in Illinois, it seems as if there’s not a lot anyone can do about it. After all, the Illinois Legislature was unable to wrest power from Gov. Rod Blagojevich to force a special election.

There’s much talk of a “change agenda” in Washington these days. We would do well to add another item to the list: We should stop letting governors appoint senators.

Last year, I sponsored legislation in Rhode Island to require vacancy elections for the United States Senate. Congress should now step in and push all states to do the same. Though Congress’s power to force special elections is untested, it could surely create incentives for putting them in place — or push for another constitutional amendment.

If Congress won’t act, the states should move forward on their own. Special elections have their difficulties — among them, clogged fields of candidates and time-consuming and expensive runoffs.

But these challenges are surmountable. Instant runoff voting, which compresses runoffs into general elections by having voters rank candidates in order of preference, is one solution.

And, as we’ve learned in Illinois and New York, elected officials provide a lot more hope for genuine democracy than their gubernatorially appointed alternatives.

David Segal is a Rhode Island state representative and an analyst for FairVote, a voting rights advocacy group.

Kennedy Out. Gillibrand In.

Posted in Democrats, politics by allisonkilkenny on January 22, 2009
398px-kirsten_gillibrand_official_photo_portrait_2006

"I'm not a Democrat. I'm a Blue Dog."

Politico and other media sources are reporting that governor David Paterson has chosen Kristen Gillibrand to fill Hillary Clinton’s vacant Senate seat.

Gillibrand is a Blue Dog Democrat, which is the name moderate Democrats gave themselves so people stopped confusing them with Republicans. Gillibrand is a pro-gun, fiscally conservative “Democrat.” Blue Dog Democrats are the people who cower at the word “liberal,” and fail to acknowledge that the only gains we — as a country — have made regarding civil rights were because of those dreaded, damn liberals

I have previously criticized the nomination of Caroline Kennedy because she was clearly a legacy selection. Let’s pretend her name was Caroline Smith, or Caroline Martinez, and she boasted of zero legislative experience, and could only incoherently mutter something about her daddy when asked why she wanted to fill one of two coveted Senate seats. No one would have considered such an applicant. Hence, why I hated the idea of Caroline Kennedy in the Senate. I’ve heard just enough about Camelot, thanks very much.

But Gillibrand is part of the same politically incestual community. During the Clinton years, she serves as Special Counsel to the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Andrew Cuomo, another nominee for Clinton’s seat. She too hosts lavish fundraising parties (out of state, an accusation she ironically used against one of her former political opponents, John Sweeney). Kennedy, no doubt, was seriously considered for the Senate role specifically for her fundraising abilities (the name Kennedy brings in a hefty chunk of change,) so it’s to be expected that cash cows are always at the forefront of these kinds of nominations.

I was really hoping Paterson would go for a fresh political name like Nydia Velasquez, who has served in the House for 15 years, and was the first Puerto Rican woman to serve in Congress. She has dealt primarily with small businesses, and is largely unknown in the political community, but I think that’s a good thing. Kennedy is very well known, has less experience than Velasquez, and I was supposed to take her seriously as a candidate, so why not Nydia? Oh, right, she’s not a legacy, or a Blue Dog.

At least Caroline was unapologetically liberal, a privilege only afforded to Kennedys, it seems. If you have a yacht, you get to look your fellow Democrats square in the eyes and say, “I believe in equal rights and not torturing foreigners. Fuck you.” But if you’re a middle-rank Democrat, you have to pathetically triangulate and apologize until you don’t even look like a Democrat anymore, and -BAM!- you wake up and your name is Kristen Gillibrand and you’re in the Senate.

Gross.