Putting a governor on democracy, or Who cares who the people voted for…

The sad story of South Dakota’s Senator Tim Johnson’s stroke is newsworthy for many reasons. Mostly we all (well, probably almost all of us) wish him well and many of us will pray for his recovery.

The secondary story here is what happens if Senator Johnson doesn’t recover or has to resign from the senate because of incapacitation. I certainly don’t want to conflate the importance of the two stories, but the political aspect of the secondary story leads into a large pet peeve of mine.

When a senator leaves office in the middle of his/her term for any reason, the Governor of the state from which the senator was elected gets to name the interim replacement for the senator.

Most of the time, the Governor will name an interim from the Governor’s political party. The problem I have (and I don’t think I’m alone) is that the people may have voted for someone from the OPPOSITE party. I realize that the Senate is the lesser democratic (small ‘d’ democratic) of the two bodies, but I do not understand why the will of the people can be thwarted in such a manner.

In this case, the control of the Senate hangs in the balance. My beef isn’t that a Republican will be named in South Dakota to replace Senator Johnson (in the worst case scenario)…I don’t care if the senator in question is Republican, Democratic, Green, Socialist, or Pleistocene. If the governor doesn’t replace the vacancy with a member of the party that left office prematurely, the governor is not only turning his back on the majority of the people in the state that bothered to vote, he is saying that his ‘vote’ is more important than the people.

Most of all, I want Senator Johnson to recover. That is clearly the best ‘solution’ here.



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6 responses to “Putting a governor on democracy, or Who cares who the people voted for…

  1. I do hope he is ok. I heard he is in surgery? – is that right.. what is exactly wrong?

  2. There will be tremendous pressure on the governor to appoint according to voters wishes. Having said that, it bears repeating that the governor may only replace a senator who has died, not one who is incapacitated. Incapacitated Senators have continued to serve their terms in the past when Governors refused to commit to appointing a same-party replacement. That’s not good representation for the voters, but those are the rules. Another countervailing fact has been in play about the Senate all along: causes there need more than a simple 51-Senator majority to win. Most need at least a 60%-40% split. That’s why I always believed the House flip was a much bigger deal than the Senate flip, which seemed more symbolic than real.

  3. Jon

    >Incapacitated Senators have continued to serve their terms

    Ted Stevens comes to mind… : )

  4. Re incapaciation..I was referring to senators who RESIGNED based on their incapacitation.

    My understanding is that if the senator doesn’t die or doesn’t resign, he gets to keep his/her seat.

    As Jon, above, said, witness Ted Stevens. I’d add to that list Strom Thurmond.

  5. …I was referring to Senators who RESIGNED…

    Sorry I OVERLOOKED that.

  6. Joe Biden was out for six months after his surgery.

    Hopefully Sen. Johnson will continue to improve and this will be a non issue.

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