Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) used the announcement that the Democratic Gov. of New Hampshire John Lynch will replace Republican Judd Gregg, who President Obama has nominated to be his Commerce Secretary, in the Senate with another Republican J. Bonnie Newman as an example of why the nation needs a constitutional amendment that mandates special elections for all vacated Senate seats.
In a statement Feingold said, “But the apparent behind-the-scenes deal-making that went on to determine who will fill Senator Gregg’s vacancy is alarmingly undemocratic. Once again, Americans will be represented in the Senate for nearly two years by someone they had no hand in electing. As the number of Senators appointed to their seats continues to rise, it’s increasingly clear that we need to fix this constitutional anachronism. It is time to pass a constitutional amendment to end appointments by governors and the political gamesmanship they encourage.”
Feingold is correct in suggesting that there was a backroom deal. The deal is that if Gregg is confirmed to Obama’s Commerce Secretary, then Governor Lynch would appoint another Republican to take his seat so that Democrats did not gain the filibuster proof magic number of 60 votes in the U.S. Senate. I disagree with Feingold’s implication that there was something odious about this deal. Instead of circumventing democracy, the New Hampshire was very non-partisan and democratic.
New Hampshire voters had chosen to fill one of their Senate seats with a Republican, so it is possible to argue that Lynch was carrying out the will of the voters in his state. As part of the deal Newman will not run for election to a full term in 2010, thus voters will get to decide exactly who they want in the seat then. It would be preferable to hold a special election to fill the seat, but that is not the current law of the land. I agree with Feingold that special elections should be required for vacated seats, but the New Hampshire agreement was not the best example of backroom dealing that is not in the public interest.