Political parties would have more power to fill U.S. Senate vacancies under a bill that passed the N.C. House in a 76-41 vote Wednesday night.
If one of North Carolina’s U.S. Senate members leaves office before their term ends, current law gives the governor the power to appoint a replacement – as long as the person appointed is from the same political party as the senator they’re replacing.
House Bill 659 would require the governor to appoint one of three people selected by the executive committee of the political party of the senator being replaced. That would ensure, for example, that a Democratic governor doesn’t appoint a Republican who doesn’t have backing from state GOP leaders.
House Democratic Leader Darren Jackson urged legislators to oppose the measure. “I do know that both parties have had some difficulties with their state party chairs, and I don’t know that who should be appointed to the Senate should be left up to that particular group,” he said.
The bill requires the parties to submit their picks within 30 days of the Senate seat becoming vacant. Rep. Elmer Floyd, a Fayetteville Democrat, unsuccessfully sought to change that deadline to 45 days.
“This would allow our Executive Committee adequate time to assemble to respond,” Floyd said, adding that if he was a U.S. senator who died in office, “allow my wife to at least place me in the casket” before naming a replacement.
The bill’s sponsor, Republican Rep. Justin Burr of Albemarle, opposed Floyd’s amendment. “They’re required to submit those names within 30 days, which I think is enough time,” Burr said.
The appointed senator would serve only until the next regularly scheduled statewide election, required under the U.S. Constitution. North Carolina is one of 36 states whose governor appoints an interim senator, while other states hold special elections or leave the seat vacant until the next election.
HB 659 now goes to the Senate.