December 14, 2006

Christ almighty, I thought I could finally relax about the Senate

Well, unless you've been living under a rock (and don't have wireless internet service under that rock), you know all about how Democratic South Dakota senator Tim Johnson is in the hospital following emergency brain surgery and that, should he leave office or die, the Republican governor of South Dakota will appoint a two-year replacement -- and there's nothing stopping him from appointing a Republican, thus throwing control of the Senate back to the GOP.

My question is...why isn't there anything stopping him? This little rule has always seemed like a strange quirk of our electoral system to me. I guess it's a bit much to ask someone to appoint someone of the opposition party, but then why not have someone else in charge of the interim appointment? Like, the state chairman of the relevant political party? Or why not hold a special election when there's a discrepancy between the parties involved? Not to be naive, but I am honestly curious whether anyone has any ideas as to why this system is considered a good idea.

Posted by Francis at 12:50 PM

I'm just waiting for the slavering conspiracy theorists to decide that Karl Rove clearly had the CIA put the drop on Johnson.

Posted by: katre at December 14, 2006 01:46 PM

Ah, it's a states' rights thing. The idea is that each state has the right to pick its own method for selecting representatives. In most states this means the governor, as chief executive, gets to make appointments to fill empty seats.

Sometimes this is not the case, however. In 2004, when John Kerry (remember him?) was running for higher office, the Massachusetts Democratic Party had a collective spasm when they realized that a Kerry win would mean that Governor Mitt Romney (R) would get to appoint his successor, likely meaning a Republican senator from Massachusetts. So in fall of 2004, the state legislature crammed through a law to require vacant seats at the national level to be filled through special election, not by appointment. But in most states this is not the case.

Posted by: msakai at December 14, 2006 03:37 PM

In America, parties don't have official standing except in elections.

This is a feature.

Posted by: Brent Royal-Gordon at December 14, 2006 03:57 PM

And what if the stricken senator were an independent?

Posted by: RichM at December 15, 2006 06:44 AM

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