(Mark Hyman) – Michael Bennet should promise to resign from the U.S. Senate.
If the Colorado Democrat, appointed to the Senate in 2009 loses the November election, then he should immediately resign. In doing so, he would continue a long honorable tradition and he would respect the wishes of Colorado voters.
Senator George LeMieux (R-FL) should do likewise.
There are currently six members of the U.S. Senate who were appointed by their state’s governors to fill vacancies. They are Roland Burris (D-IL), Edward Kaufman (D-DE), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Carte Goodwin (D-WV), and Bennet and LeMieux.
Illinois is holding a special election next month to coincide with the regularly scheduled election for a new six-year term for the Senate seat previously held by Barack Obama. The special election and general election ballot names are identical.
The winner of the special election will fill the remainder of the current Senate term that expires on January 3, 2011. Burris declined to run for a full six-year term when corruption allegations arose. The winner of the November special election will immediately assume office.
Kaufman has been serving in the Delaware Senate seat vacated by Joe Biden when he assumed the vice presidency. The winner of the November 2010 election will fill the remainder of the term that ends in January 2015.
Gillibrand is running to fill the balance of the term (until January 2013) of the seat held by Hillary Clinton before she was confirmed as Secretary of State. Gillibrand currently holds a double-digit lead over her Republican challenger, according to the most recent polling.
A special election is being held in November to fill the remaining two years of the term in the Senate seat previously held by Robert Byrd. The appointed incumbent, Carte Goodwin, is not running in the special election.
Florida Governor Charlie Crist (R) appointed LeMieux to fill the remainder of the unexpired term of the Senate seat occupied by Mel Martinez when he resigned in 2009. Unlike Colorado’s Bennet, LeMieux is not a candidate for election to a full six-year term that would begin in January 2011. Still, he has the same moral obligation as Bennet to resign after the November election.
Michael Bennet is running for a full six-year term as Senator. He was appointed to the seat held by Ken Salazar until Salazar was appointed Secretary of the Interior. The regularly scheduled election for this seat is November 2010.
A promised resignation from Bennet is crucial to Colorado voters. The state is not holding a special election to fill the remaining 62 days of the six-year term of Salazar’s former Senate seat. However, in nearly every identical situation the incumbent Senator who was appointed by a governor resigned the seat so that the people’s choice could immediately be sworn in. A direct benefit to the state is that the newly elected Senator would have seniority over the other members of the new Senate class who would assume office in January 2011.
The unwritten rule is that a Senate incumbent who was not elected by the voters would resign after the election so that the Senator-elect could immediately take office. A resignation also honors the will of the voters who chose to turn back the de facto caretaker of the Senate office. Countless examples abound of this time-honored resignation tradition.
Harlan Mathews (D-TN) was appointed in January 1993 to the Senate seat held by Al Gore when was elected vice president. Mathews did not run in the special election in November 1994 to fill the balance of the term (two-years) and resigned on December 1, 1994 so that election-winner Fred Thompson could immediately be sworn into office.
North Dakota’s Jocelyn Burdick (D-ND) was appointed to the Senate seat upon the death of her husband in September 1992. She resigned following the November election to allow Kent Conrad to fill the remainder of Senator Quentin Burdick’s term in office before Conrad’s own term was scheduled to begin.
Harrison “Pete” Williams (D-NJ) resigned from the Senate following his Abscam corruption conviction in 1982. Republican Nicholas Brady was appointed to fill the Senate seat. Brady was not a candidate in the November election and resigned before the term was to expire, making way for Frank Lautenberg (D) to be sworn in ahead of his Senate class.
In fact, this tradition has been honored by appointed Colorado Senators in the past. In September 1932, Colorado’s Walter Walker (D) was appointed to the Senate upon the death of Charles Waterman. Walker lost the November 1932 election to Karl Schuyler, who was sworn into office on December 7.
Also in Colorado, Alva Adams (D) was appointed to the Senate in May 1923. He lost the November 1924 election to a full term and left the Senate that month. He was succeeded by election-winner Republican Rice Means on December 1, 1924.
Of course, there have been the rare exceptions. The political theater and late night TV punch line in Minnesota that was the governorship of Jesse Ventura had ties to the last appointed Senator who refused to resign. Minnesota Reform Party founder and Ventura’s 1998 campaign chairman Dean Barkley was appointed by Ventura to the Senate after the death of Paul Wellstone. Barkley refused to resign when Norm Coleman won the November 2002 election.
There have also been political shenanigans that have delayed a Senator-elect from immediately taking office.
Paul Kirk, Jr. (D-MA) was appointed as the caretaker of the seat formerly held by Edward Kennedy (D). Republican Scott Brown defeated the Democrat candidate for the seat in a January 19, 2010 special election. However, Massachusetts officials delayed certifying Brown’s election victory in an attempt for Kirk to be the 60th vote in favor of ObamaCare. Brown was not sworn into office until February 4, 2010.
The partisan actions by Massachusetts politicians underscore the importance of Bennet’s resignation should he lose the election. Congressional Democrats have vowed to hold a lame-duck session following this year’s mid-term elections. Democrats are expected to suffer significant election losses in November.
It is widely anticipated that Democrats will play the role of sore losers and use their lame-duck majorities to ram through legislation that is widely opposed by the majority of Americans. Everything from tax hikes to the onerous “cap-and-trade” legislation will likely be on the table.
Democrat incumbents, who were opposed to voting on such legislation before the election and who will no doubt be bitter following their election defeats, may vote in favor of treacherous legislation as political payback to the voters who turned them out of office.
The Maginot Line to preventing the passage of several bad bills lies in the Senate where every single vote counts. There is little doubt a lame-duck Bennet would vote in lock-step with Senate President Harry Reid (D-NV). Therefore, Colorado voters should demand a resignation promise from Bennet in the closing days of the campaign. It could be the deciding issue in what is now a very tight Senate race.
(Mark Hyman is a commentator for Sinclair Broadcast Group, Inc.)