Christine Stuart file photo
Gov. M. Jodi Rell (Christine Stuart file photo)

In an unexpected move, Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell signed the US Senate vacancy bill which takes away the governor’s power to appoint someone to a vacant US Senate seat.

“Although the current process for filling a Senate vacancy has worked well in our state for many decades, this bill gives directly to the people of Connecticut the decision on who would fill a vacancy in the U.S. Senate,” Rell said in a press release. “Since taking office as Governor, I have done everything in my power to make Connecticut a model for all states when it comes to openness, transparency and citizen participation in government.”

“We are fortunate to live in a participatory democracy, where our people do indeed have a voice in how they are governed,” Rell said. “This law is consistent with my long-held belief that we should take every action possible to involve our citizens in their government.”

Republican lawmakers had called the bill a “power grab” during lengthy debates in both the House and the Senate.

When asked what he thought about the governor’s decision to sign the bill, House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk, said, “no comment.”

Previously, Rell’s spokesman Chris Cooper had said the bill was “partisan politics,” and that there were “many, many more important things for the legislature to be spending its time on.”

Rep. James Spallone, D-Essex, the bill’s main proponent said he was very pleased with Rell’s decision to sign the bill. He said she had not personally made any public comments about the bill and has a record of helping expand participatory democracy, so he wasn’t necessarily surprised.

Spallone said there hasn’t been a vacant US Senate seat for more than 50 years, so its unlikely the bill would need to be used anytime soon.

“No one person, no one party and no one special interest group should have the power to put an individual in this powerful seat. The people should have the right to choose who represents them in the Senate,” Sen. Gayle Slossberg, D-Milford, said in a press release. “This is a victory for the people of Connecticut today, one that will prevent the type of corrupt behavior we’ve seen in other states and that will uphold democracy in ours.”

Since the 1940s the power to appoint a US Senator has resided with the governor, but recent scandals like the one in Illinois over Barack Obama’s vacant senate seat has given the concept of holding a special election more momentum than in previous years.

Under the bill once a vacancy occurs, the governor will issue a writ within 10 days and the special election will be held on the 150th day after the writ is issued.