Posted by Brad @ 3:44 pm on January 4th 2009

A Piddling Little Question

Four Senate seats this month have to be filled by governors because the seat-holders are vacating for prominent jobs in the new administration.

In Delaware, Joseph Biden is ascending to the Vice Presidency, and in an example of horse-trading so transparent that it apparently doesn’t even warrant comment, twisted the arm of the governor to appoint his senior aide to the seat with the more-or-less express intent of keeping it warm for his son in 2010. The appointee, Ted Kaufman, has never received a single vote and has never held elected or even public office and, as far as I’m aware, doesn’t even have any noteworthy experience in the private sector. He was appointed over other potential candidates like the sitting Lieutenant Governor, the sitting Secretary of State, a sitting state supreme court justice, and, presumably, every other previous or sitting elected official in the state of Delaware.

In New York, of course, it seemed very likely, at least until she botched her entrance into the field, that Governor Patterson, at least in part on direction from the Obama campaign, would appoint Caroline Kennedy. Kennedy has done some good work in her life, but again has eschewed public accountability, and I think precisely nobody denies that the #1 qualification which puts her into such strong contention is her recent role as being one of the President elect’s top surrogates and fundraisers. Again, it’s not that Governor Patterson has no options, but rather no imagination. The other two names being widely floated for the seat are Andrew Cuomo and, yes, Bill Clinton. Which would be mind-blowing considering he would be holding the seat of the lady who was only put into the seat for being married to him (though at least she got elected and thus deserved it). In any case, who says the American aristocracy is dead? I’m still holding out hope that Patterson does the right thing and nominates somebody not on the basis of horsetrading and favor-rewarding, but rather looks to an actual prominent public servant in New York who deserves the ascension (unlike, say, in Delaware, where that was apparently not even a consideration).

In Colorado, Senator Ken Salazar is vacating to be Obama’s Secretary of the Interior. Yesterday, Governor Bill Ritter announced his appointment to fill the seat to term as…Denver Public Schools Superintendent Michael Bennet. And a collective “who?” echoes throughout the rocky mountains.

However, the liberal netroots knows what’s going on. As David Sirota writes here, there is only one area in which Ritter excels: he is the most well connected candidate to the big money donors in Colorado and beyond:

Considering his lack of legislative record, lack of experience in any elected or statewide office, and considerable ties to the biggest of big money, it’s logical to be concerned about how a Senator Bennet will vote on issues. Off the top of my head, I’m wondering, for instance, whether someone with this kind of resume is going to be in favor of tougher financial industry regulations?*

Colorado has no dearth of very, very qualified people to be U.S. Senator (especially considering that being a U.S. Senator is one of the easiest jobs in the United States – your major responsibility is to vote yes or no and then be told how awesome you are by the 50 taxpayer-funded sycophants who comprise your personal staff – a lot easier than the average factory job). More specifically, we have a lot of people who have worked very hard passing good public policy and building the grassroots of the Democratic Party for years here (many who are named on the list of aforementioned potential candidates, and which I publicly supported for appointment when hosting the big drive-time radio show here last week). Looking at this bench, and then selecting a person with almost none of those qualities confirms that what gets rewarded in politics today is not legislative accomplishments nor even political ones – what counts is money, inside connections, Ivy League pedigree and a Beltway-padded resume.

And then you have Illinois.

There, the controversial but innocent-until-proven-guilty governor apparantly rethought his standards and decided to go after a candidate who was the least offensive and most obviously squeaky clean and qualified candidate for the office possible. The Illinois legislature punted on holding a special election, despite their protestations that they wanted a fair process (when what they really mean is one in which they get to have their thumbs on the scales), so rather than leave Illinois with only one Senate vote for the foreseeable future, the governor went with a known public servant, a man who has made a career out of seeking public approval, a man with some pretty germane qualifications considering the context (a former Attorney General (i.e. anti-corruption crusader) and former Comptroller (i.e. bank regulator), a man who would not leave the Senate without a single African-American, and a man who, despite the most intense public scrutiny spotlight in America right now, precisely nobody can level an accusation against. In other words, the man, given the circumstances, most qualified for the job.

So, four Senate vacancies. In one, literally a staffer is appointed to keep the seat warm for the Senator’s son. In another, it’s an ongoing battle of which high-profile election surrogate to reward for their loyalty. In the third, the trumping consideration was apparently in favor of the guy most connected to big money, at the expense of qualifications or experience. And in the fourth, the guy nominated was an unimpeachable public servant undeniably qualified for the job.

Now, the question:

Guess which one doesn’t get seated?

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