William “Mo” Cowan Appointed to the United States Senate from Massachusetts

This week, Senator William "Mo" Cowan travels to Washington to be sworn in as Massachusetts' junior Senator following the resignation of Senator John F. Kerry, who departed the Senate on Friday, February 1, 2013 to assume his responsibilities as our nation's 68th Secretary of State.

Senator Cowan, a Democrat, was appointed to the position by Governor Deval L. Patrick. He will serve as an interim Senator until the results of the June 25th Special Election to fill out the remainder of Senator Kerry's full term are certified.

A native of North Carolina who came to Massachusetts to attend Northeastern University Law School, Cowan has earned a position of prominence and high regard in the Boston legal community. He has served in key positions in the Patrick Administration, first as Chief Counsel and then, ultimately, as the Governor's Chief of Staff.

To put Senator Cowan's appointment in a historical context, upon his swearing in, he will become the fifth interim Senator appointed from Massachusetts since the Seventeenth Amendment to the Constitution was ratified in 1913. The Seventeenth Amendment ended the appointment of U.S. Senators by vote of each state's legislature and established the direct popular election of Senators.

In addition, Cowan will become just the eighth African American to serve in the United States Senate in its 224-year history, and his tenure will mark the first time ever that two African American Senators - Tim Scott (R-GA) is the other - will serve in the Senate at the same time.

Senator Cowan follows in the footsteps of ground-breaking former Massachusetts Republican Senator Edward W. Brooke, who made history in 1966 when he became the first African American ever to win election to the U.S. Senate. Prior to Brooke's election, two African American Senators had served in the Senate during the Reconstruction period after the Civil War - Hiram R. Revels and Blanche K. Bruce. Both Rhodes, who served from 1870 to 1871, and Bruce, who served from 1875 to 1881, were Republicans appointed by the Mississippi State Legislature prior to the establishment of direct Senate elections.

Carol Moseley Braun, a Democrat of Illinois who served from 1993 to 1999, was the first African American female ever elected to the United States Senate. The most famous African American Senator in our history, of course, is President Barack Obama, who was elected to the Senate from Illinois in 2004.

With his historic appointment, Senator Mo Cowan will become the 192nd person appointed to the United States Senate since the Seventeenth Amendment required the direct election of Senators. Professor Peter Ubertaccio of the Joseph Martin Institute for Law and Society at Stonehill College recently had a conversation with the Edward M. Kennedy Institute to discuss the history of interim Senators.

EMK Institute: Senator Cowan has indicated that he will not run in the upcoming special election for his seat. Do most appointed interim Senators end up running for election?

Professor Ubertaccio: Yes, they do. Only 69 interim Senators (of 192 total) did not seek election to the seat. One interim Senator, Alva Moore Lumpkin of South Carolina, died in office.

James Eastland was appointed to the Senate to fill the vacancy left by the death of Senator Pat Harrison in 1941. Eastland did not run for election to that seat but did run and win Mississippi's other Senate seat in 1942.

EMK Institute: Which state has had the most number of interim appointments?

Professor Ubertaccio: Kentucky and South Carolina lead the nation with eight interim Senators. New Jersey and North Carolina have had seven each. With Senator Cowan, Massachusetts will have had five, tied with California, Georgia, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, and Wyoming.

EMK Institute: John Kerry left the Senate to become Secretary of State. What is the most common reason for a Senate vacancy?

Professor Ubertaccio: Well the most common reason for a vacancy is the death of a Senator. Since the passage of the Seventeenth Amendment, 150 Senators have died in office. Four resigned due to scandal or controversy. Recently, a number of Senators have left to join the Executive Branch. In 2008, sitting Senators were elected President and Vice President - that only happened once before in 1960 - and interim Senators were appointed. President Obama subsequently chose sitting Senators to serve as Secretary of State, Senators Clinton and Kerry, and Secretary of the Interior, Senator Salazar.

EMK Institute: Do all states employ the same method for appointing interim Senators?

Professor Ubertaccio: For the most part, they do. When a vacancy occurs, most states allow the Governor to appoint an interim Senator who will serve until the next congressional election. Massachusetts allows a gubernatorial appointment but only until a special election can be held between 145 and 160 days after the vacancy occurs. Alaska, Oregon and Wisconsin mandate a special election to fill a vacancy and don't allow for a gubernatorial appointment. The Governor of Oklahoma can only appoint the winner of a special election held to fill a vacant Senate seat.

EMK Institute: Have interim Senators gone on to lead the institution?

Professor Ubertaccio: Some certainly do.  Both Republican William Knowland of California and Democrat George Mitchell of Maine would go on to serve as Majority Leader of the Senate. Republicans Arthur Vandenberg of Michigan, Milton Young of North Dakota and Ted Stevens of Alaska and Democrats Carter Glass of Virginia and James Eastland of Mississippi all went on to serve as President Pro Tempore.

Other former interim Senators would assume leadership positions elsewhere: John Foster Dulles of New York would go on to serve as Secretary of State under Dwight Eisenhower; Walter Mondale would be elected Vice President and challenged Ronald Reagan as the 1984 Democratic nominee for President; Nicholas Brady of New Jersey would serve President George H.W. Bush as Secretary of the Treasury; Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island now serves his state as Governor.

EMK Institute: Are appointed Senators a more diverse group than elected Senators?

Professor Ubertaccio: For a long time, the only women who served in the Senate were appointed to the seat.  Typically they were appointed to fill the seat upon the death of their husband. The first three women to serve in the Senate - Rebecca Latimer Felton of Georgia, Hattie Wyatt Caraway of Arkansas, and Rose McConnell Long of Louisiana - were appointed to complete their husbands' terms.

Only eight African-Americans have served in the Senate and since the adoption of the Seventeenth Amendment three - Roland Burris of Illinois, Tim Scott of South Carolina, and Mo Cowan of Massachusetts - have been appointed.

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