Elect, Not Appoint

Minnesota’s unresolved U.S. Senate race and an Illinois political mess left two state lawmakers thinking: Minnesotans should vote to fill a Senate vacancy, not let the governor make an appointment.

Democrats Sen. Ann Rest and Rep. Ryan Winkler will push a bill during the 2009 Minnesota Legislature that removes a governor’s authority to appoint someone to fill a U.S. Senate vacancy. They said special elections are held to fill U.S. House and state legislative vacancies, and open Senate seats should be handled the same way.

Rest and Winkler said their legislation is not aimed at any one governor’s authority, including Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

"Minnesota voters have a right to expect that they will decide who represents our interests in Washington," Winkler said.

This is a good time to discuss the issue, the lawmakers said, because of the attention being given to Minnesota’s Senate race, which will not be settled before the new Congress begins Tuesday. Post-election lawsuits could leave Minnesota without two U.S. senators for some time. That has led to speculation about how a vacancy would be handled, though Pawlenty has said he does not expect to appoint someone, even an interim senator.

Things are uglier in Illinois, where disgraced Gov. Rod Blagojevich appointed a Senate successor to President-elect Barack Obama despite widespread opposition and the possibility the governor will be impeached.