Ted Kaufman - United States Senator for Delaware

When Senate appointments go well

Source: Washington Post

By Jonathan Capehart

March 15, 2010

Sen. Ted KAUFMAN (D-Del.) requested a meeting after reading my post on how Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex.) should avoid leaving her seat open to a gubernatorial appointee. He didn't take kindly to my comment that "there are way too many people sitting in the Senate due to the good graces of a self-interested governor than to the voters." One of those people being KAUFMAN -- Joe Biden's former chief of staff, who was tapped to replace his boss after the 2008 election.

The cheerful and chatty senator made a good point during our hour-long meeting in his Senate office last week: "If I were governor, I'd pick someone like me. Someone who knows his way around. Someone who can hit the ground running and do as much as possible for me as governor" to help my state.

I still believe that gubernatorial appointments are undemocratic. As we have seen in other states, they're prone to manipulation by the governor, the office seeker, or both. But it's true that by picking KAUFMAN, then-Gov. Ruth Ann Minner ensured a continuity of knowledge and expertise in the Senate for her state. There are times when gubernatorial Senate appointments work out well.

KAUFMAN has a "Wow! I can't believe I'm here" air about him. "I never wanted to be a senator," he told me. "There are two kinds of people: those who want to be a senator and those who are staff. I considered myself staff." Still, he has embraced his new role. He sits on Biden's old committees: judiciary and foreign relations. As the Senate's only engineer, he has championed improvements to education in science, technology, engineering and math. And he has focused intensely on the economy. Just last week, he delivered a lengthy floor speech on financial regulatory reform.

I got the gangly gesticulator going by asking him to talk about his push for reinstating some form of the uptick rule on short sales. "Since there have been markets," he said, "there have been predatory bears. They do everything they can to bring the market down to make money." Waving a copy of Andrew Ross Sorkin's "Too Big Too Fail" on his desk -- "This book is great and a fun read!" -- he warned, "The people in New York [on Wall Street] are ready to short sell again, and this will bring down the financial system." And he said the process will be hastened by the combination of lots of money, high-frequency trading, the lack of transparency and the absence of regulation.

KAUFMAN made it clear upon his appointment that he would not seek a full term. (A vow he reaffirmed to me.) Some folks thought that was proof that he was a seat warmer for Biden's son Beau, currently Delaware's attorney general. Okay, I was one of those folks. But a funny thing happened after Beau Biden returned from a tour of duty in Iraq: He decided not to run.

So in November, the people of the First State will face a range of choices -- but an appointed incumbent and a legacy candidate won't be among them. We'll see if they elect someone with as much passion and experience as the person sitting in the seat now.

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