Christine Stuart photo
Rep. James Spallone and Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz (Christine Stuart photo )

Democratic lawmakers and Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell are headed for another confrontation in 2009 over how to fill a US Senate vacancy mid-term.

Currently the law, which has been in place since 1947, gives the governor the power to appoint an individual to a US Senate vacancy, however, Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz and Rep. James Spallone, D-Essex, said Wednesday that they are determined to give the power back to the people.

As chairman of the General Administration and Elections Committee, Spallone said he will usher through legislation that requires the vacancy to be filled by a special election.

Choosing a US Senator is “too important to allow one person to make that decision,” Bysiewicz said.

Both Bysiewicz and Spallone said this had nothing to do with partisan politics. The Democrats in the state of Connecticut have not held the governor’s office in almost two decades.

Democrats won two-thirds majorities in both chambers during this past November’s elections, giving them the numbers to override an Rell veto in the coming term, however, they held similar majorities in 2007 and were only able to override one of Rell’s vetoes.

“This is an overtly political maneuver by the Secretary of State,” Chris Cooper, Rell’s spokesman said Wednesday. “At a time when our state faces significant economic challenges, it is unfortunate that the Secretary of State is spending her time on a partisan political ploy rather than trying to help create jobs or help Connecticut families.”

Both Bysiewicz and Spallone cited the scandal in Illinois where Gov. Rod Blagojevich, a Democrat, allegedly attempted to sell president-elect Barack Obama’s senate seat to the highest bidder.

A Senate seat is not a “door prize to be handed out to the highest bidder,” Bysiewicz said.

Spallone said he believes there is broad support for this initiative, even though similar measures failed in 2007 and 2008. The committee votes in 2008 were mostly along party lines with Democrats in favor it and Republicans against it. Click here for more history on last year’s bill. 

“This is an issue that comes up every couple of years,” Bysiewicz said. She said it was debated in 1996 well in advance of US Senator Joseph Lieberman’s run for vice-president.

For 130 years, state legislatures—not the voters—elected US Senators. It wasn’t until 1913 when the 17th Amendment of the US Constitution was ratified did the voters in each state get an opportunity to elect their senators.