Bill Aims to Change the Way U.S. Senate Vacancies are Filled
Florida voters – not Gov. Charlie Crist -- would have been able to choose U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez’s replacement under legislation filed Monday by a House Democrat and Senate Republican.
Rep. Rick Kriseman, D-St. Petersburg, and Sen. Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland, filed the measures (HB 213, SB 356) that would make Florida the 14h state requiring filling a Senate vacancy through a special election.
The remainder of states allow the governor to appoint a replacement, which Crist did in August when he appointed his former campaign manager, George LeMieux, to serve out the remaining 16-months of Martinez’s term.
“I don’t think anyone should presume this bill is a reflection of the governor’s choice, but rather it’s a reflection on the policy,” said Dockery, who is considering entering the Republican primary for governor.
Kriseman, too, said the legislation was “more about the process than the person.”
Both lawmakers pointed out that state law allows for special elections to be held when vacancies occur in legislative and congressional districts. The legislation would merely bring U.S. Senate seats in line with the procedure for filling these other elected offices, Kriseman and Dockery said.
Florida and 36 other states currently allow the governor to appoint an interim senator. But a dozen states earlier this year considered legislation to remove the appointment power from the governor, although the effort was approved only in Connecticut.
Massaschusetts, following the death of Sen. Edward Kennedy, last month went the other way – with the Legislature approving a measure allowing the Democratic governor to appoint a temporary replacement until a special election could be held next January.
Dockery acknowledged the move would remove some authority from the governor’s office, but that it was important for voters to have a right to choose a Senate successor.
“When in doubt, the voters should make the decision,” she said.
The legislation doesn’t provide a specific time-frame for when the special election should be held once the vacancy is created. But those details can develop if the measure advances in the Legislature, the lawmakers said.
The measure has the backing of a Senate Republican, but Kriseman said he would argue that House Republicans should embrace it to remain consistent with their demand for a constitutional amendment requiring employees to vote by secret ballot in union representation elections.
Business organizations have been leaning on Republicans to pass the measure out of fear that the Democratic-controlled Congress would pass legislation allowing unions to organize in workplaces when a majority of employees sign cards.
The ballot proposal, spearheaded by House Majority Leader Adam Hasner, R-Delray Beach, would have allowed Florida to sidestep such federal requirements. The measure failed but is likely to return next spring – with business groups continuing to fan fears of union activity.
“Republicans were very much in favor of allowing people to vote,” Kriseman said. “So I don’t think they should have a problem with our bill.”
Hasner agreed, saying that, “from a conceptual perspective I don’t have any problem with that. The only concerns I might have is how much it could cost for a special election.”