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Timeline is murky for Perry to call election to replace Hutchison in Senate

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/news/politics/state/stories/DN-texwatch_06nat.ART.State.Edition1.4c2a1de.html Timeline is murky for Perry to call
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 6, 2009

      Timeline is murky for Perry to call election to replace Hutchison in Senate

      03:58 PM CDT on Sunday, September 6, 2009
      By TODD J. GILLMAN / The Dallas Morning News

      WASHINGTON – The death of Sen. Ted Kennedy has provided a fresh reminder that when a Senate seat comes open, two things are sure to happen: Ambitious politicians will scramble for a shot at a rare prize, and law books will get dusted off as state and party officials sort through the arcane and confusing rules.

      In Massachusetts, unlike in Texas and 44 other states, the governor has no legal authority to install a temporary replacement. One of Kennedy's final acts was to ask his state's leaders to change that.

      In Texas, all eyes are on Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, who says she'll resign ahead of the March primary in which she hopes to oust Gov. Rick Perry, but hasn't said when.

      Depending on when she quits and when Perry orders a special election, an interim senator he names could serve for a few weeks or many months.

      We'll leave speculation over names to another time. For now, let's focus on the rules.

      The first thing to know is that the governor is empowered to name a temporary senator who will serve until a special election is held to fill what's left of the term – in this case, through Jan. 3, 2013 – and the winner is sworn in.

      Under state law, special elections can be held on the state's twice-annual "uniform election dates."

      The next such dates are Nov. 3, 2009, and May 8, 2010.

      And there's a 36-day deadline, which means that to trigger a Nov. 3 special election, Hutchison would have to resign by Sept. 28.

      For a May 8 special election, she would have to quit by April 2.

      The governor can declare an "emergency," though, and order a special election on any Tuesday or Saturday that is more than 36 days and less than 50 days away.

      Election lawyers and campaign strategists will go cross-eyed trying to figure out deadlines to apply for a ballot slot. Bottom line: filing ends anywhere from two months to 20 days before Election Day, depending on how much warning the governor gives.

      (Thanks to Randall Dillard at the Texas secretary of state's office for sorting through the rules with me.)

      All of this lends itself to gamesmanship, on both sides.

      Presumably, Hutchison would try to time her resignation to prevent Perry from setting a special election to coincide with their March primary, on the theory that a double feature would only bring out even more hard-core conservatives.

      On the other hand, Perry's choice of interim senator could alter the dynamic.

      The field of candidates that emerges would also shape the electorate in unpredictable ways, and as Hutchison would remember from June 1993, when she won a special election, this will be a bipartisan free-for-all, not a one-party primary.

      Perry is not obliged to call a quick election. He could install an ally to serve for months until the next uniform election date. The impact on his fight with Hutchison? Guesswork at this point.

      So, there it is in a nutshell.

      Texans will go to the polls to fill a Senate vacancy – on Nov. 3, May 8 or some other Tuesday or Saturday in the next three, five or nine months.

      Save the date.

      Changing the rules

      Congress is studying whether to ban the appointment of interim senators. The fiasco in Illinois, where the governor apparently shopped President Barack Obama's seat to high bidders, fueled the push for reform.

      So did the high turnover after the 2008 elections. Obama, his vice president, interior secretary and secretary of state all resigned from the Senate, creating vacancies in Illinois, Delaware, Colorado and New York.

      Nearly a quarter of Americans were represented by an unelected senator. Adding Texas to that equation in coming months would put a sharp focus on the issue.

      In August, a Senate Judiciary subcommittee called for a constitutional amendment requiring that all senators be elected.

      In the House, a short but bipartisan list of co-sponsors for that idea includes San Antonio Rep. Lamar Smith, the senior Republican on the House Judiciary Committee.

      Todd J. Gillman is Washington Bureau Chief of The Dallas Morning News.
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