Number of Appointed Senators Growing but Not Nearly a Record

by Nathan L. Gonzales August 31, 2009 · 9:00 AM EDT

With four appointed Senators seated and at least one, if not two more, on the way, a growing number of unelected officials are going to have a significant voice in major legislation in the 111th Congress. But even though six appointed Senators is nowhere near the most to ever serve together, it would be the largest number in more than 40 years.

Earlier this year, Sens. Roland Burris (D-Ill.) and Ted Kaufman (D-Del.) were appointed to fill the vacant seats of President Barack Obama and Vice President Joseph Biden. And Sens. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) took office when Sens. Ken Salazar (D) and Hillary Rodham Clinton (D) left for President Obama’s Cabinet.

On Friday, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (R) selected George LeMieux as the appointee to replace Sen. Mel Martinez (R), who initially announced he would not seek re-election and recently announced he would be resigning. LeMieux is a former Crist chief of staff.

Now, after the death of Sen. Edward Kennedy (D), it appears that the Massachusetts Legislature is ready to change the law to give Gov. Deval Patrick (D) the authority to appoint a successor to serve until a special election can be held early next year, instead of having the seat remain vacant until the election.

Six appointed Senators would be the most since 1961-1962, when seven appointed Senators served in the 87th Congress. That class included Sen. Benjamin Smith (D-Mass.), who was appointed to fill the seat vacated by John F. Kennedy when he was elected president. Smith was just a placeholder, and Ted Kennedy won the seat in 1962.

Thirteen appointed Senators served in the 79th Congress, spanning 1945-1946, which is the largest number, according to the Senate Historical Office. Ten appointed Senators served in both the 65th (1917-1918) and 83rd (1953-1954) Congresses. In the first half of the 20th century, appointed Senators were much more common, with an average of six from 1913 through 1954.

Between the six appointed Senators in the 87th Congress and this 111th Congress, the average number of appointed Senators in a Congress has been two. Part of the reason is that the chamber is growing younger. There were nine deaths in the 83rd Congress and seven in the 87th.

In some cases, the large number of appointments is adding to a growing slate of Senate races in the 2010 cycle. And both parties’ campaign committees are facing an expansive and expensive set of races

The Obama, Salazar, and Martinez seats were already scheduled to be up for election for next year, but the seats formerly held by Biden and Clinton will have special elections next November to fill out the remainder of their terms, growing the total number of seats up in 2010 from 34 to 36.

Even if Gov. Patrick is allowed to appoint a replacement, there will still be a special election, likely in early 2010, to fill out the remainder of Kennedy’s term, which expires in 2012.

And there will also likely be a special election in Texas next year if, as is expected, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R) resigns in order to focus on her gubernatorial run. That vacancy would be filled by special election and not appointment.

Thirty-eight Senate seats would be the most in a cycle since 1962, when 39 Senate seats were in play.

A race in Texas adds another costly contest to go with expected races in expensive advertising states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania, as well as potentially competitive races in Florida, California and New York.

While Republicans may very well take a pass on the Massachusetts special because of the Democratic nature of the state and circumstances surrounding the vacancy, Texas will be a must-win for National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas).

The NRSC had $4.43 million in the bank at the end of July and no debt. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee had $7.15 million on hand but is still carrying $3.33 million in debt from last cycle.