The New Senator From Massachusetts Is…

This afternoon, the Massachusetts State Senate approved a bill that will allow Governor Deval Patrick to appoint an interim senator while the special election to fill Ted Kennedy’s seat plays out.


The House passed the bill last week, and Patrick will sign it either tonight or tomorrow. An appointment will follow shortly thereafter, with the appointee serving until state voters choose a new senator on January 19 (even though the real action will be in the December 8 Democratic primary—in which state Attorney General Martha Coakley is the odds-on favorite).


Here are the most likely appointees, and a few wild cards:


Michael Dukakis (former governor; 1975-1979; 1983-1991): Since no Kennedy family member appears interested in the appointment, Dukakis is the most logical choice. As the only living former Democratic governor in Massachusetts, he would bring unique stature to the job. Plus, at 75 years old, he could say with a straight face that he’s not interested in parlaying the appointment into a political campaign.


Paul Kirk (former D.N.C. chairman, 1985-1989): Kirk lacks Dukakis’ long history in the political spotlight, which means he has fewer enemies. A longtime aide to Ted Kennedy, his election as chairman of the D.N.C. in 1985 was seen by many as the first step toward an ’88 presidential bid by Kennedy, but that never materialized (Dukakis ran instead). Kirk nearly ran for governor of Massachusetts in 1990. Now 81 years old, he lives on the Cape and is a co-chairman of the Commission on Presidential Debates.


Evelyn Murphy (former lieutenant governor, 1987-1991): 20 years ago, many believed that Murphy was on her way to being the state’s first female governor. When Dukakis returned from his losing presidential bid and announced he wouldn’t seek re-election in 1990, Murphy emerged as the clear favorite to replace him. But his popularity crashed in 1989 and ’90, and by the time the Democratic primary rolled around, Murphy couldn’t escape his shadow. She ended her campaign days before the primary and has stayed out of politics since. Still, Massachusetts has never had a female senator (although Coakley is well-positioned to win this year), and Murphy—who has devoted extensive work to the gender wage gap in recent years—could be an appealing wild card for Patrick.


Scott Harshbarger (former state attorney general, 1991-1999): Harshbarger narrowly lost the 1998 gubernatorial race to Republican Paul Cellucci (who left two years later to be ambassador to Canada). He then spent a few years running Common Cause and flirting with a comeback campaign in Massachusetts, but never went through with it. Now 67, he’d be a pretty safe pick with strong good-government credentials and a clean image. However, he agreed on Tuesday to head up an independent investigation of ACORN’s management structure, which could take him out of the Senate mix.


Charles Ogletree (Harvard Law professor): If Patrick is looking to appoint a non-politician, Ogletree, 56, could be an attractive option. He has close ties to Barack Obama, his former student, and would be the state’s second black senator (Ed Brooke, who served from 1967 to 1979, was the first).


Derek Bok (former Harvard president): Like Ogletree, the 79-year-old Bok could be an outside-the-box pick. He retired after a 20-year run as Harvard’s president in 1991 (though he briefly returned after Larry Summers’ 2006 ouster), but remains fairly well-known (in the Boston/Cambridge area, at least). He also served as the chairman of Common Cause for seven years.


Phil Johnston (former Massachusetts Democratic chairman): Johnston, a close Kennedy family friend, was nearly elected to Congress in 1996; his apparent victory in the Democratic primary was overturned in court in mid-October and the new nominee, Bill Delahunt, went on to win easily in November (and remains in the House today). After that, Johnston—a close Kennedy family friend—served as chairman of the state Democratic Party for seven years. The New Senator From Massachusetts Is…