The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Paul Fidalgo, communications director -

David Segal, analyst -

Martinez Resignation Highlights Need for Elections to Fill Senate Vacancies

Comes on heels of Feingold-McCain bill passing first committee vote


Florida U.S. Senator Mel Martinez has announced that he will resign
this fall, more than a year before the end of this term. Gov. Charlie
Crist, a leading candidate for the seat, is now in the position to
decide who will fill the office in the interim, with the expectation of
a placeholder candidate who likely will be a weak representative for
one of our largest states.

"Any appointment Gov. Crist makes will be perceived through the lens of
his own personal political interests," said FairVote's executive
director Rob Richie. "All U.S. Senate vacancies should be filled by
special election, and never subject to the partisan, parochial
interests of governors. It's worked for more than two centuries for the
U.S. House. The Senate should be reflective of the will of the people,
not the interests of other politicians."

All U.S. Senators must be elected in regularly scheduled elections, but
gubernatorial appointment of vacancies represents a giant loophole
through which nearly a quarter of all Senators serving since the 17th
amendment have passed. The past year has been no exception, with
governors appointing members of the U.S. Senate left and right. Many of
those appointments have been problematic at best. Most obviously
troublesome was impeached Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich's
controversial appointment of Roland Burris to fill the Senate vacancy
left by the election of President Barack Obama, an appointment riddled
with allegations of corruption, quid pro quos and an announcement by
Burris not to seek re-election. Other appointments include Ted
Kaufmann, filling the Delaware seat left by Vice President Biden, who
is perceived by many to be 'keeping the seat warm' for the vice
president's son Beau Biden. The New York seat vacated by Secretary of
State Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, was rife with insider maneuverings
and drama as political celebrities battled for the favor of Gov. David

All of this could be avoided if these vacancies were filled by the
people. Despite the notoriety of the Blagojevich scandal, only one
state -- Connecticut -- passed legislation this year mandating
elections to fill vacancies, although similar legislation has passed
both houses of the Rhode Island legislature. Due to state partisan
dynamics and self-interested behavior by governors loathe to give up
the power to appoint vacancies - see our testimony to Congress
on this subject in March for more details -- FairVote supports a
constitutional amendment (SJ 7) mandating elections for Senate
vacancies, introduced by Sen. Russ Feingold and cosponsored by a
bipartisan group of U.S. Senators, including Sen. John McCain. On
August 6th, the legislation passed the Judiciary Committee's
Subcommittee on the Constitution. The bill earned bipartisan support,
suggesting that it won't fit neatly into the partisan pigeonholes
affecting so much legislation this year.

FairVote analyst David Segal, who testified before the Senate
Judiciary Committee this year on behalf of SJ 7, is available for
comment at and 301-270-4616. His commentary
on this issue has appeared in the New York Times, the Baltimore Sun, and just weeks before the June win in Connecticut, the Hartford Courant.

FairVote acts to transform our elections to achieve universal access to participation, a full spectrum of meaningful ballot choices and majority rule with fair representation for all. As a catalyst for change, we build support for innovative strategies to win a constitutionally protected right to vote, universal voter registration, a national popular vote for president, instant runoff voting and proportional representation.