Sunday, December 21, 2008

You want the NYS Senate seat, Caroline? Put it on the line in 90 days

This article in today's NYT, which is a sketch of random people from across the state (upstate and down) about what they think about the possibility that Caroline Schlossberg Kennedy, daughter of JFK, might become the seat filler for the New York State (NYS) federal Senate seat which will become vacant when Hillary Clinton becomes Secretary of State next month, pretty much covers it. For some, huge hopes for the return of alleged magic created during the administration of the president who screwed Marilyn Monroe. For others, anger at the sheer arrogance that a Kennedy is entitled to anything at all; and for a third camp, bewilderment that after all these years of being in the background, why now?

Under NYS law, a by-election doesn't have to be held for the seat until the midterms in 2010; the person who Gov. David Paterson appoints on an interim basis can sit unopposed for the next 22 months. That is wrong.

If Mrs. Kennedy wants the seat that bad, she should be willing to put her job on the line and ask the NYS legislature to pass a law requiring a by-election within 90 days of her appointment, no later than April 14, 2009 -- and use the campaign in the by-election to prove she is a truly different type of candidate and not just another f***ing Kennedy.

While she has many progressive ideas including supporting same sex marriage and abortion rights, and she is an ardent supporter of an undivided Jerusalem, she does have one Achilles heel -- she supports tougher gun control, not a popular idea Upstate which except for the cities is NRA Central. Don't forget, Hillary lost upstate by 10 percent in 2000 and was only saved by a huge majority in the NYC metro area.

NYS should have the right to say if they want a Kennedy (or anyone else for that matter) in the Upper Chamber -- not have it shoved in their faces like a fait accompli.

Back in 1991, when John Heinz of Pennsylvania was killed in a plane crash, the governor of the state, Bob Casey Sr., appointed Harris Wofford to fill the seat until a by-election could be held (which state law requires). Even though he was far behind the Republican candidate, Richard Thornburgh (who resigned as Bush 41's Attorney General), Wofford accepted the appointment and willingly ran in a by-election. No one seriously thought Wofford would win -- after all, he was a JFK hack, an advisor on civil rights and the Peace Corps. Worse, saying one was associated with any "Kennedy," in many rural parts of Pennsylvania, is like whispering the number 666.

But Wofford had an ace in the hole: The campaign was run by the tag team of Jim Carville and Paul Begala, until then two total unknowns outside of most circles. Wofford slam dunked Thornburgh by 10 percent when the by-election was finally held, mostly on a promise to try to bring universal health coverage to the country with his state acting as a pilot project. And we all know what Carville-Begala as well as George Stephanopoulos did for Bill Clinton the following year.

Wofford lost in the generals three years later to Ricky Santorum, one of the dominoes that fell in the Gingrich revolution (his position on gun control, which toughened during his three years in the Senate, didn't help) but when the process started in 1991 he knew he could lose but he took the risk. As for Thornburgh, he knew there was a risk as well and he was left out of the cold all together -- by that time, his post at the White House had already been filled by William Barr and instead had to take a job as the #2 in the US delegation at the United Nations. (In one of those full circle things, Santorum lost the seat in 2006 to Bob Casey Jr.)

If it's good enough for Pennsylvania next door, it's good enough for NYS. There should be a by-election, just as much as there should be one to fill the vacancy left by Barack Obama in Illinois and probably will be to circumvent Blagojevich.

At least Mrs. Kennedy would have a job to fall back on if she lost -- many New Yorkers don't have that privilege right now. And she should get her own advisors too, not rely on those who brought Billary to national attention.

Sidebar: When I ran the spellcheck for this post, one of the suggestions for Schlossberg was sleazebag. Caroline has thankfully stayed away from that kind of sleaze that most of her family's been involved with, but shouldn't NYS residents be the judge of that -- now?

UPDATE (11:26 am EST, 1626 GMT): Minor edits. Also, all the Sunday talk shows today are talking as if Mrs. Kennedy's appointment is a slam dunk. If it is, I hope Mrs. Kennedy knows what she's getting into -- Capitol Hill is a dog eat dog world, totally unlike the fairyland menagerie that her mother created to deceive the American people.

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