The Minority Leader of the New York State Assembly has issued a fresh call for a special election to fill the U.S. Senate seat expected to be vacated by Hillary Clinton after her confirmation as Secretary of State. Assemblyman Tedisco told an Associated Press reporter, "We need an election -- not a coronation -- to ensure our next U.S. senator represents the will of the people."
On one level, the Republican's demand is obviously opportunistic, since an election would mean that his party would have a chance to take the seat. Recognizing this, Prof. Gerald Benjamin of SUNY-New Paltz told the AP that moving for a special election now would be a "bad idea." According to the reporter, the professor "sees perhaps some merit in the idea longterm, but says the current proposals seem partisan."
But what if it is? Opportunistic as Tedisco is, what does it mean for people to reject his idea as "partisan?" As things currently stand, a Democratic governor will have the sole right to choose a successor to a Democratic Senator. While it can be taken for granted that the governor will appoint a Democrat to succeed Sen. Clinton, there's a further underlying assumption at work when we dismiss the Republicans' appeal. That assumption is that the seat won by Clinton belongs to the Democratic party for the next six years. You can see why Democrats might think so, but New Yorkers in 2000 and 2006 voted for a specific person, Hillary Clinton, and for the Democratic party only by coincidence. Her right to the seat is not the party's right. It could be argued that people vote for parties as much as persons, but no one has a legal basis for acting on that belief. In any event, it could just as well be argued that the party's right to the seat expires with the premature termination of its candidate's term. To argue against a special election because the opposition party might benefit is to say that the governor's right of replacement exists only as a guarantee of majority-party ownership of what should be an elected individual's place in Washington.
All you can blame Tedisco for is hypocrisy. It's easy to argue that if we were back in Gov. Pataki's time, and Sen. D'Amato suddenly died or found a better job offer somewhere, Tedisco would never question Pataki's right to appoint any Republican to the post, even one as unqualified as he claims Caroline Kennedy to be. But there's a difference between Tedisco's position and the principle others can infer from it. Say what you will about the man, but the principle is still valid, and the likelihood that Tedisco is a partisan hypocrite is only a stronger argument for changing the system so that Senate seats are no longer party property. Tedisco is right in spite of himself. Shoot the messenger if you must, but don't ignore the message.