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The Nation

The Trouble With Appointing Caroline Kennedy

Anyone who purports to be seriously concerned that an untested Caroline Kennedy might "inherit" the U.S. Senate seat from New York has not been paying attention.

Of course, there is something unseemly about the prospect that John F. Kennedy's daughter -- not to mention the niece of Robert and Ted -- might be appointed to the seat being vacated by Secretary of State-designee Hillary Clinton. Most New Yorkers didn't even know that this particular Kennedy lived in the state. And if she has been known for anything until this year it has been for studiously avoided not just the political stage but most serious public-policy debates.

But the notion that Senate appointments go to the most experienced, or qualified, or honorable, or even most politically-appealing contenders is comic in the extreme.

It is not as if Rod Blagojevich was the first governor to think of bartering off a Senate seat to the highest bidder. The governor of Illinois may stand accused of putting a "for sale" sign on a Senate seat, but the only thing that distinguished him from his appointing peers is that he actually dealt in numbers.

When governors are given the authority to fill vacant Senate seats on a whim, the whim will necessarily be a self-serving one. To think otherwise is to imagine that politicians do not worry about whether they will be reelected, about who will support them with money and endorsements, about how to undermine opponents and help friends.

If New York Governor David Paterson ditches Kennedy and appoints another member of a big-name political family, Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, to the Senate seat, it won't be because he thought the edgy AG would be the best senator. It will be to eliminate a potential rival at the state level. And so it goes down the appointment list.

The problem is not Caroline Kennedy, or Andrew Cuomo for that matter. It's not Rod Blagojevich or Paterson. It's the fact that governors get to appoint senators.

When a U.S. House seat goes vacant -- due to death or resignation -- the Constitution requires that a special election be held.

When a U.S. Senate seat goes vacant, a Constitutional loophole allows governors in most states to start wheeling and dealing.

It's a lousy loophole.

Governors should not be in the business of appointing senators, be they Kennedys, Cuomos, Smiths or Jones.

The people should make the pick.

The Constitution should be amended to require that all Senate vacancies be filled by special elections.

Then, if Caroline Kennedy wants to become a senator, she can ask the voters to give it to her -- just as her father did in 1952, just as her uncle did in 1962, just as her other uncle did in 1964, and just as Hillary Clinton did in 2000.

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