Senator Palin? Doubtful. But what if…

Covert Zero brings up “an interesting point” (before throwing me a link…thanks!) from former defense analyst Chuck Spinney (H/T James Fallows):

“How much do you want to bet the Sarah Palin won’t replace Ted Stevens after being induced to run in a special election by “popular demand”?

Could happen, but that’s not a bet I’d take.

Explanation, and lots more wonkery with an even wilder scenario, below the break.

There may well be “popular demand” for a Senator Palin, but let’s suppose for a moment that (1) McCain-Palin loses, (2) Ted Stevens beats Mark Begich, and (3) Stevens resigns or is expelled after he is sworn in (a series of premises on which Spinney’s scenario depends).

Even if McCain and Palin lose the race, this election has transformed Gov. Palin into the Republican Party’s presidential heir-apparent. This will undoubtedly be McCain’s final presidential election if he loses; she is now the GOP’s highest-profile national contender for 2012, and she will be far better prepared for it next time around. Why on earth would she give up a shot at the top spot for a position that would rob her of two of her best political assets: her outsider status, and her executive background? And why would Alaskans send her to an office the first term of which she likely would have no intention of completing (wouldn’t that be fairly…ahem!…Obama-esque)? Besides, according to the Constitution, the earliest that a special U.S. Senate election could be held would be 2010, and she’d have to start campaigning for president around then, before she’d even had a chance to hang the prize moose rack on her Senate office wall.

One of my friends has floated a possible scenario, however, that’s even more mind-bending than Governor Palin running for Senate in a special election in 2010: What if Palin appoints herself to replace Stevens?

[Enter WitSnapper wonk.]

As it happens, I’ve asked myself this question before (years ago, before this particular case). The U.S. Constitution provides for appointments to fill a Senate vacancy by the govenror of the state in question, and there’s nothing in the Constitution expressly forbidding a governor from turning to himself or herself to find such an appointee. My (admittedly fairly cursory) review of Alaska’s state constitution and relevant statutes don’t turn up anything either that says Palin can’t do such a thing.

So theoretically, it looks like she could do it. Politically, she almost certainly won’t. Why not? Well, there’s still the heir-apparent thing, but also because of a lesson she might draw from recent history.

No governor has ever flat-out appointed himself to the Senate to fill a vacancy, but there is one instance in history that amounts to the same thing. In 1977, when Walter Mondale resigned his Minnesota Senate seat to be sworn in as Jimmy Carter’s vice president, it fell to then-Governor Wendell Anderson to replace him. Anderson was the golden boy of Minnesota politics, and buzz abounded about his potential for a presidential run. He was handsome, well-spoken, and a former Olympic hockey star. However, in a fit of naked ambition, he stepped down as governor upon Sen. Mondale’s resignation, after he had secured a backroom deal with his successor-to-be, Lieutenant Governor Rudy Perpich, that Anderson would be appointed to fill Mondale’s seat.

(An interesting note: Gov. Perpich later made an appointment to fill Minnesota’s other Senate seat, when he tapped Muriel Humphrey in January, 1978, to succeed her late husband Sen. Hubert Humphrey following his death from cancer. I love the multifaceted historical parallel between Mondale and Humphrey: two Minnesotans, both vice presidents, both failed presidential candidates, both served in the U.S. Senate, and both replaced there by Perpich appointments barely over a year apart.)

Gov. Perpich’s appointment of Anderson to the Senate proved to be a political disaster for both of them, and eventually for Minnesota’s entire Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party. It was roundly slammed as a shameless power play by Anderson and a craven selling-out by Perpich, and in statewide elections two years later, in what came to be called the “Minnesota Massacre,” nearly the entire DFL ticket went down to defeat with Anderson and Perpich. (Muriel Humphrey did not run in the special election for her seat, but the eventual nominee, former baseball executive Bob Short, went on to lose badly to Republican David Durenburger.)

Needless to say, I don’t see such a debacle happening with Palin. She likely knows well that voters can turn instantly on a governor, regardless of popularity, if they feel he or she is taking advantage of their good graces. Palin assumed the governorship when she unseated incumbent Frank Murkowski, notorious for running for Governor from his Senate perch and, upon winning and taking office, appointing his own daughter as his replacement. I like to think that the twin examples of Senate appointment abuse by both Murkowski and Anderson would dissuade her from trying something similar.

[Exit WitSnapper wonk.]

UPDATE: Simon at Stubborn Facts adds something kewl about Alaska law regarding appointments to the Senate, and in the process corrects a small flaw in my reasoning. The U.S. Constitution does not, in itself, vest the appointment power in the governors of the respective states, but rather empowers the state legislatures to grant that power to the governor. Read Simon’s post for the kewl stuff.

UPDATE II: Ken Rudin at the Washington Post (via the Corner) apparently wrote years ago that Wendell Anderson is not the only governor to appoint himself senator; just the most recent. (I knew I was putting too much faith in the gubernatorial mindset when I wrote that part.) Indeed, nine governors have made that little faux pas. The overarching point still stands, however, as all but one of the nine were booted out of office by voters at their earliest convenience. The summary sentence in the Corner:

Several readers have suggested that Sarah Palin appoint herself to Ted Stevens’s Senate seat in the event of a vacancy. A great idea — if you hate her and want her career to end, that is.

Read the whole piece by Rudin; I’m reminded of how much I miss his “Political Junkie” column.

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