West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin on Wednesday (July 7) said he is interested in running for the seat of longtime U.S. Senator Robert Byrd, who died last week at 92. Until an election can be set, however, Manchin may appoint someone else to the job, which could bring the number of U.S. senators appointed by governors — rather than elected by voters — to six.
Most of the gubernatorial appointees now serving in the Senate are Democrats who filled positions vacated by current Obama administration officials — including the president and vice-president themselves.
Former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich appointed Roland Burris to President Obama's former Senate seat, while then-Delaware Governor Ruth Ann Minner appointed Ted Kaufman, a longtime aide to Vice President Biden, to Biden's old Senate position.
New York Governor David Paterson appointed Kirsten Gillibrand, an upstate congresswoman, to the Senate seat left by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, while Colorado Governor Bill Ritter named Michael Bennett to replace Ken Salazar, who joined the Obama administration as secretary of the interior.
On the Republican side of the aisle, the only gubernatorial appointee is George Lemieux, who was named to the Senate by Florida Governor Charlie Crist last year after the retirement of Senator Mel Martinez.
Gubernatorial appointments have been a source of debate in recent years because of the scandal surrounding Blagojevich — who is on trial for corruption, including allegedly offering to sell Obama's Senate seat — and because of a perception that such appointments are an undemocratic way of choosing legislators who represent an entire state. Many editorial boards have criticized the system of gubernatorial appointments as one prone to cronyism, and U.S. Senator Russell Feingold of Wisconsin has drafted a constitutional amendment that would require all senators to be elected.
As Stateline has reported , the vast majority of states allow governors to choose replacement senators until elections can be held.