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Ten Better Ways to Choose A Senator

This country has got to come up with a better way to fill vacancies in the U.S. Senate. I want to help.

We can’t seem to keep from embarrassing ourselves whenever someone gives up a seat in the institution that calls itself “the world’s greatest deliberative body.” That’s another way of saying, “51 percent is a majority everywhere else, but we need at least 60 percent to decide what to have for lunch.”

When Barack Obama gave up his Senate seat after he was elected President, Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich all but tried to auction off the seat on eBay. Blagojevich is no longer governor.

Florida Sen. Mel Martinez decided, in the spirit of Sarah Palin and Charlie Harper (Charlie Sheen’s character on “Two and a Half Men”), that having commitment issues does not make you a bad person. He walked out with about 18 months remaining in his term, leaving Gov. Charlie Crist to choose a successor. Crist, who is running for the job himself in 2010, didn’t think voters would be grateful if he gave himself a head start. So he did the next best thing by appointing his former campaign manager, George LeMieux, who says he is honored to serve but would really rather be fishing. The seat will, therefore, be vacant again in time for Crist’s campaign next year.

Shortly before he died, Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy suggested this same procedure to fill his own impending vacancy. He wanted Gov. Deval Patrick, a Democrat, to choose a replacement, but only someone who would pinky-swear that he would not try to keep the seat in the next election. That strategy would give Democrats a key vote toward that magic 60, while still leaving the seat open for Kennedy’s nephew, Joseph Kennedy II, to pursue. But Joseph Kennedy announced earlier this week that he's not interested in the seat, which probably makes him the obvious person for Patrick to pick.

The trouble is that, in Massachusetts, governors do not pick senators. They used to pick senators, but Democrats in the Legislature took that power away five years ago when a Republican was in office. Now they want to give it back, but only when a Democrat is governor. In Massachusetts, Republicans are like the little kid with the runny nose who only gets to play when he brings the ball.

New York’s accidental governor, David Paterson, held a beauty contest of sorts to fill the seat Hillary Clinton vacated when she became Secretary of State. Patterson took a long, close look at Caroline Kennedy (daughter of the late president and niece of two late senators, but otherwise unable to explain either why she wanted the job or why she is qualified). Patterson then decided to give the job to someone else, while his staff and Ms. Kennedy’s talked smack about one another.

All this, in 474 sorry words, is why we need new ways to select senators when we cannot have an election because we lack the time to raise gazillions of dollars from altruistic donors. Here are my suggestions:

Category: Reality Television

Option 1: Are You Smarter Than A Fifth-Grader? (Possible downside: Politicians might cut money from education to make fifth-graders easier to beat.)

Option 2: Survivor: Beltway

Option 3: American Idol

Category: Merit Selection

Option 1: SAT tests (highest combined score)

Option 2: Beauty pageant (double-weight mandatory speech on “Why I Want World Peace”)

Option 3: Highest ratings as guest host on Saturday Night Live

Category: Games of Skill and Chance

Option 1: Caller #10 to 1-800-USSENATE

Option 2: Punt, pass and kick competition

Option 3: Best finish in the World Series of Poker

Option 4: March Madness office pool

That should do it. These are 10 ways of choosing senators, all of which are clearly superior to the ways we do it now. By the way: I don’t want the job. But I can be in Washington on Monday if somebody appoints me.

Larry M. Elkin is the founder and president of Palisades Hudson, and is based out of Palisades Hudson’s Fort Lauderdale, Florida headquarters. He wrote several of the chapters in the firm’s book, Looking Ahead: Life, Family, Wealth and Business After 55. His contributions include Chapter 1, “Looking Ahead When Youth Is Behind Us” and Chapter 4, “The Family Business."

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