The mortality of U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg became of greater importance to Democrats today, now that Republican Christopher Christie has been sworn in as governor. The Legislature was unable to move on proposals during the lame duck session to change the way U.S. Senate vacancies are filled. If Lautenberg’s seat were to become vacant over the next four years, Christie would be able to appoint a Republican to fill it. Lautenberg, in good health, turns 86 on Saturday.
Efforts to change the succession laws can backfire. The Democratic-controlled Massachusetts Legislature changed their law in 2004 so that the Republican governor, Mitt Romney, could not appoint a GOP Senator if John Kerry had been elected president. The death of Ted Kennedy last August forced the Legislature to change the law again, allowing Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick to appoint a caretaker until a special election could be held; some independent polls show Republican Scott Brown leading that race. Had legislators not meddled, Democrats would hold the seat until at least November, when a special election would have been held.