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Replacement senators should be elected, not appointed, state lawmaker says

The change of administrations in Washington has created a lot of change in the U.S. Senate.

With the election of former senators Barack Obama of Illinois and Joe Biden of Delaware, and the selection of former senators Hillary Clinton of New York and Ken Salazar of Colorado to the Cabinet, heavy turnover is occurring in the Senate. But none of the new senators have been endorsed by voters at the ballot box.

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In each case, the governor of the state where the vacancy was picked the replacement. Each selection has provoked criticism.

In Colorado, Democrat Gov. Bill Ritter selected Michael Bennet, the 44-year-old Denver schools superintendent, for the Salazar vacancy. The Washington Post called Bennett the "greenest and least well-known member of the Senate." In Delaware, former Gov. Ruth Ann Minner named longtime Biden staffer Edward E. Kaufman to the seat. Kaufman has said he will not run, and most observers believe that Beau Biden, the vice-president's son who is serving in Iraq, is the leading contender. In New York, Gov. David Paterson danced around the Caroline Kennedy issue and finally selected Kirsten Gillibrand, an upstate congresswoman who is sure to face a challenge from her party's liberal wing.

And the Illinois situation, where former Gov. Rod Blagojevich was impeached after being recorded effectively trying to sell the Senate seat, is the most bizarre of all.

Another example could be on the way. If New Hampshire Republican Sen. Judd Gregg accepts Obama's expected offer to be commerce secretary, the Democratic governor of New Hampshire will get to pick a replacement senator, bringing the number of Senate Democrats to 60 – enough to block a filibuster.

None of this sits well with Del. Saqib Ali of Montgomery County. He wants Maryland to be one of the states (there are currently nine, he says) to mandate a special election to fill Senate vacancies. He's prepared a bill that would do that.

Ali's bill has the backing of Common Cause of Maryland and picks up on an idea offered by Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, who has called for direct election of Senate replacements. Ali's bill would make Feingold's suggestion a reality, at least in Maryland.

It's a populist idea, but I don't see the Assembly following the trail on this one. What's your view? Is Ali's proposal a good idea?

***Note to readers: This blog posting has been modified to reflect that fact that several states currently allow direct election of Senate replacements. Thanks to those who pointed out the need for this alteration.***

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