Hearing set on replacing Kennedy

BOSTON – The push to name a successor to the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy gained momentum Monday, with state lawmakers scheduling a hearing on whether to allow an appointee to serve until a special election in January.

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick also said Monday that Kennedy’s widow, Vicki Kennedy, told him she does not want to be appointed as an interim replacement.

Before he died last week, Kennedy had asked Massachusetts lawmakers to change state law to let the governor name an interim appointee to serve until voters can choose a permanent replacement. Current Massachusetts law does not allow an interim appointee.

“This is the only way to ensure that Massachusetts is fully represented,” Patrick said, but cautioned that “I don’t think by any means it is a certainty it will happen.”

Patrick said he agreed with Kennedy that the state needs two voices in the Senate during the intervening five months. State law requires a special election between 145 and 160 days after a vacancy; the special election was set for Jan. 19.

Patrick said he has heard from top Democrats in Washington, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., both of whom support the change allowing an appointee. Senate Democrats say they need as many votes as they can during the debate on health care.

Lawmakers in the Democrat-controlled Massachusetts House and Senate announced Monday they would hold a hearing Sept. 9 on a bill that would allow the interim appointment.

The speedy scheduling of the hearing was the clearest sign yet that lawmakers might change the law.

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