Labor pushes on Mass. succession

By Michael Falcone
|  Friday, Sep 4, 2009  |  Updated 11:01 PM PDT
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A Massachusetts congressional delegation is pushing for an interim replacement for Sen. Ted Kennedy.

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Organized labor and senior members of the Massachusetts congressional delegation are mounting an intensive lobbying effort to persuade state legislators to support the appointment of an interim successor for the late Sen. Ted Kennedy.

In advance of a state legislative hearing on the matter next week, a variety of groups, including labor unions and voting rights organizations, have been reaching out to lawmakers expressing their support for a plan to change the state succession law to give Gov. Deval Patrick (D-Mass.) the authority to install a temporary senator before the January special election to fill Kennedy’s seat .

“There’s an unbelievable campaign going on,” said Robert J. Haynes, president of the Massachusetts chapter of the AFL-CIO. “Everybody is on deck to try to pull this off.”

Haynes said that he is mobilizing his members in a campaign-style push to change the law because the state needed to be represented by two senators as Congress grapples with health care reform and other issues.

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) plans to testify before the state’s Joint Committee on Election Laws, which is holding a hearing next Wednesday to consider a bill that would change the succession law. Kerry has said he supports the change, an idea that Kennedy discussed with him in the months before he died.

Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), who has suggested he is open to accommodating Kennedy's request to change the law, is working with other members of the House delegation on drafting a letter to the committee.

The AFL-CIO plans to send an e-mail to every member of the state House and Senate on Tuesday asking them to support the temporary succession plan, and union leaders are leaning on their members to lobby their representatives to vote in favor of changing the law.

State legislators said they were already on the receiving end of some of those e-mails and phone calls over the past week.

State Rep. Michael J. Moran, the co-chairman of the election law committee, said in an interview with POLITICO that he had been in contact with at least a dozen groups who wanted to weigh in on the issue.

“You take them all into consideration when you make a decision like this,” Moran said, adding that while he still hears objections to the plan, he noticed “a lot more e-mails coming from proponents.”

One of them came from Richard M. Rogers, executive secretary-treasurer of the Greater Boston Labor Council, who wrote to legislators this week.

“I write to respectfully urge prompt passage of legislation that would ensure full representation for Massachusetts in the United States Senate in instances where a Senate seat is vacated in the course of the six-year U.S. Senate term,” wrote Rogers, who concluded his letter by asking lawmakers to do “everything in your power to advocate for and expedite legislation that achieves this goal.”

A Massachusetts voting rights organization, MassVote, has also teamed up with a coalition of groups, including the Service Employees International Union, to start an online petition and Web site, WeNeedTwo.org, to gather support for the interim successor proposal.

Some interest groups said the lobbying goes both ways. Legislators, they say, have contacted them to solicit official statements of support for changing the succession law.

The AFL-CIO is not taking a position on who Governor Patrick should appoint to the Senate seat if the law is changed, but Haynes said he had some ideas. He said that former Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, the 1988 Democratic presidential nominee, would be an ideal choice.

“I won’t tell him who to put there,” Haynes said. “But I think I’ve got plenty of support behind me with my 400,000 members to say, ‘this is the kind of person we want there.’”

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