Senators want to fill vacancies by election only
Current Texas law has the governor appoint a senator to serve until a special election is held to fill the remainder of the term.
All vacancies in the U.S. House of Representatives already must be filled by election.
If Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison follows through on her expressed desire to run for governor in 2010, she could resign, or let her Senate tenure expire upon being sworn in as governor. Either would create a vacancy that, under current law, would be temporarily filled by gubernatorial appointment, pending the special election.
If Hutchison quits before the new governor is seated, the governor -- presumably Republican Gov. Rick Perry - names her interim replacement. If she wins the governorship and waits to resign the senate by being sworn in as governor, she could appoint her own interim successor.
If she loses for governor, she can continue as a senator until her term expires in early 2013. Hutchison has said she won't seek re-election in 2012.
Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wisconsin, is leading the effort to amend the United States constitution to remove states' ability to let governors appoint interim successors.
The furor surrounding the appointment of Roland W. Burris to replace Barack Obama, by recently impeached Gov. Rod Blagojevich, is just part of the reason Feingold wants the change.
Another, Feingold said, is the number of appointees to the Senate in the wake of Obama's move to the presidency.
Obama chose Democratic former Sens. Joe Biden of Delaware, as his vice-president, Ken Salazar of Colorado as interior secretary, and Hillary Clinton of New York as his secretary of state.
Their slots were all filled by appointment - as would have been New Hampshire Republican Sen. Judd Gregg's, had he not changed his mind about becoming commerce secretary.
To change would require amending the constitution. The 17th Amendment, which took effect in 1913, made senators elective rather than chosen by state legislatures.
While calling for governors to call special elections upon Senate vacancies, the amendment also allowed legislatures to have their governors appoint someone to serve until the election.
Most states did, and there have been 185 appointed interim senators since the 17th Amendment took effect.
Wisconsin and Oregon require elections only. Oklahoma calls for elections, but allows an appointment if the vacancy occurs after March 1 of the last year of the incumbent's term.
Texas' special election procedure has no party primaries, but lists all candidates, regardless of party, on the same ballot. If no one gets a majority, the top two finishers, regardless of party, have a runoff.
Since Texas first elected a senator in 1916, there have been just four special senate elections.
The temporary appointee has never won a subsequent special election - twice because the stand-in didn't run. The two times he did, Democrat William A. Blakley in 1961 lost to Republican John Tower, and Democrat Robert Krueger in 1993 lost to Republican Hutchison.
Feingold has some strong supporters of the change: Illinois' other senator, Democrat Richard Durbin, and the recent Republican nominee for president, John McCain of Arizona, plus the House Judiciary Committee chairman, Democrat John Conyers Jr., of Michigan.
However, passing an amendment to the U.S. Constitution is no small feat. If it is initiated by the congress, as have all the amendments passed before, it requires a two-thirds endorsement in each house. Then it must be ratified by three-fourths - or 38 of the 50 - state legislatures (or state conventions if prescribed, as happened once, when the alcohol prohibition amendment was passed).
If Hutchison resigns in 2009 or 2010, there's probably not enough time for 38 states to sign off the suggested amendment before the vacancy is filled - if indeed the proposal could get two-thirds vote in both the House and Senate to begin with.
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And So On. . . . Once, an interim senator appointed to fill a vacancy did not have to seek election, because he'd already won a six-year term.
Republican John Cornyn was appointed by Gov. Perry on Dec. 2, 2002, to fill the last few weeks of the Senate term of his predecessor, Republican Phil Gramm, who resigned early to give Cornyn a seniority boost.
Cornyn had already been elected to a full term on Nov. 5.