Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Filling the Senate Vacancies

With Barack Obama's rise to the White House, several key Senate seats are open across the country as the President-Elect chooses his cabinet.

In Delaware, the Governor has already found a replacement for Vice President-Elect Joe Biden, the Senior Senator. It is Biden's own Chief of Staff, Ted Kaufman. The 69-year-old politico is expected, however, to be nothing more than a place holder for the seat.

By Delaware law, the Governor's appointed replacement can only serve until a Special Election in 2010. By that time, the future VP's son, Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden will have returned from service in Iraq.

In New York, the seat currently held by Sen. Hillary Clinton is up for grabs as the junior Senator is expected to be confirmed as the next Secretary of State. Although the decision is ultimately Governor Paterson's, everyone knows who the #1 Contender is - Caroline Kennedy.

The only other politician on the short list at this point is NY Attorney General Andrew Cuomo - son of the former Governor Mario Cuomo. He has not said whether or not he is interested.

In Colorado, Sen. Ken Salazar's seat is suddenly up for grabs as the Democratic politician prepares for confirmation as Secretary of the Interior. There are several names on the short list including the Senator's brother, Rep. John Salazar, Rep. Diana DeGette, Rep. Earl Perlmutter, State House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, former U.S. Attorney Tom Strickland, and Denver Superintendent Michael Bennet.

In Illinois, Barack Obama's seat has been the most controversial following allegations that Governor Rod Blagojevich tried to sell the Senate seat to the highest bidder. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. was considered a front runner until revelations arose that he was "Candidate 5" in the scandal.

However, new revelations that Jackson was a government informant for the Blagojevich investigation are likely to put him back in the race. It is still unclear whether or not there will be a Special Election to decide Obama's successor.

What Is Significant About These Vacancies

There are two important facts to note about the current vacancies and the short lists. First is that Obama was specifically choosing Senators from states with Democratic Governors and (typically) where the Governor makes an appointment. This ensures that no new Republican opposition will come up in the Senate during the incoming President's first two years.

The second significant fact is that many politicians on the short list are from famous political families. Beau Biden might very well take his father's seat in Delaware. Caroline Kennedy (the daughter of JFK) is expected to take her uncle's seat in New York, which is currently held by the next Secretary of State and wife of a former President. John Salazar might be appointed to his brother's Senate seat in Colorado, and the Rev. Jesse Jackson - a famous civil rights leader and former Democratic Presidential candidate - may see his son become the sixth black Senator in American history.

Charles Mahtesian of Politico points out how the Democrats are embracing dynasty politics in an article today.

All told, it's entirely possible that the Senate will be comprised of nearly a dozen congressional offspring by the end of Obama's first term as president.

"It's a very interesting American phenomenon, even though there is a line in the Constitution that says no title of nobility may be granted by the United States," says Stephen Hess, a senior fellow emeritus at the Brookings Institution and the author of America's Political Dynasties. "Given where we started, it's interesting that this has developed."

While the electoral success rate of name recognition may be the obvious reason for this trend, Bob Edgar - president of Common Cause and a former Pennsylvania Congressman - says "There are three issues behind this trend. Money is issue number one, money is issue number two and money is issue number three."

After the scrutiny that current President Bush received for taking the role of his father, and the rejection of Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign this year, the dynasty trend may be thin ice the Democrats walk on.

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