The nomination of John Kerry as secretary of state creates obvious complications in Massachusetts, which will now see its third high-profile Senate contest in less than four years. Upon Kerry’s confirmation, which is all but assured, Governor Patrick must appoint a successor and set a special election date between 145 days and 160 days after the seat becomes vacant. Democratic lawmakers should resist the temptation to make further adjustments to the Commonwealth’s Senate-succession rules, as they did for partisan purposes in 2004 and 2009. (The election of a Republican successor was, among other things, a form of comeuppance for those high-handed changes.)
Meanwhile, Patrick should follow the precedent he set after Ted Kennedy’s death in 2009 and appoint a caretaker senator who vows not to run in the special election. A number of senior political figures in Massachusetts have relevant experience in Washington and could serve knowledgeably for a few months. Patrick shouldn’t use the appointment to give a jump-start to any one candidate’s political future; all potential candidates for the permanent post deserve an equal shot, and voters deserve the chance to fill an open seat.