Showdown today on Senate seat; Support appears shaky on naming an interim.


Byline: John J. Monahan

BOSTON - The controversial bill to allow the governor to make an interim appointment to the U.S. Senate seat left vacant by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy's death will cross an initial legislative threshold today, as the Legislature's Election Law Committee holds a public hearing on the measure.

The hearing, being held in the largest auditorium in the Statehouse, is expected to draw those outraged over a perceived flip-flop by Democrats over Senate replacement laws, as well as supporters.

Supporters of the change include backers of national health care reform, who want to see the Senate's 60-vote Democratic majority restored for the fall session when there could be key votes on climate change, federal funding for transportation and health care.

The hearing comes as President Barack Obama is about to up the stakes in the health care debate with a speech to Congress aimed at getting the bill voted on this year. Since Mr. Kennedy's death, the Senate has lost a 60-vote majority needed to prevent Republicans from blocking legislation.

Without the change in state election law, the Senate seat would go unfilled until after a final special election is held Jan. 19. Party primaries for the special election will be held Dec. 8.

The bill currently before the Legislature would allow an interim appointment by the governor only after the Nov. 20 deadline for candidates to file papers to appear on the special election ballot, essentially eliminating the possibility that an interim appointee would run in the special election.

It was unclear yesterday whether the state Senate may take a vote on the bill tomorrow, during its first formal session since July. The House has not yet scheduled a formal session this week.

The bill would allow an interim replacement as requested by Mr. Kennedy in the weeks before his death. He had asked the governor to name a short-term replacement who would not be a candidate for the special election, and Gov. Deval L. Patrick has agreed to do so.

State Sen. Harriette L. Chandler, D-Worcester, said the bill may get put to an initial vote tomorrow in the Senate and she is ready to support it, even though she acknowledged support, even among Democrats, is shaky.

"I feel passionately about health care and I think it is going to be a very close vote and I think we need that extra vote. We are entitled to it," she said of the need for an interim senator.

In 2004, anticipating a possible vacancy if U.S. Sen. John F...

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