Special election
maintains ‘people’s House’


A special election has been scheduled Nov. 30 for someone to serve the remainder of Rep. Patsy Mink's term.

EVERY member of the U.S. House of Representatives since its first session has been elected by the people. The $2 million cost of a special election of a successor to complete the term of the late Rep. Patsy Mink, even if only for a month, is a small price to pay for maintaining that integrity. The alternative of a less expensive gubernatorial appointment to the House seat, as wished by some, would be both unconstitutional and repugnant to the foundation of the House as the government institution closest to the people.

Framers of the Constitution made clear that the people should elect House members, while assigning state legislators to select U.S. senators. Not until 1913, following ratification of the 17th Amendment, did senators begin to be chosen at the ballot box.

Mink's hospitalization and lack of communication in the weeks before and the days following last month's primary election raised "what if" uncertainties about the political process. However, sensitive ways have been found in the past to assure elections of replacement members of the House in the most difficult circumstances.

>> House Majority Leader Hale Boggs, D-La., and Rep. Nick Begich, D-Ark., were lost in a plane crash in Alaska in 1972. Although their bodies were not found, an Alaska court ruled that they were presumed to have died, and special elections were conducted.

>> While campaigning for re-election in 1980, Rep. Gladys Noon Spellman, D-Md., fell into a deep and irreversible coma less than two weeks before the general election. Her name was on the ballot, and she won. The following February, while she remained in a coma, the House passed a resolution declaring the seat vacant because of Spellman's "absence and continuing incapacity," prompting a special election. The sudden attack apparently prevented her from granting a friend or relative power of attorney, which would have facilitated her resignation. She died in 1988.

The expense and trouble of conducting a special election to fill a single House seat pales in comparison with the organizational nightmare that would follow a possible terrorist attack on Congress. If Flight 93, the United Airlines flight that crashed in Pennsylvania on Sept. 11, 2001, had not been 41 minutes late in taking off, its passengers would not have heard from their loved ones by cell phone of the World Trade Center attack and thought to have charged the cockpit. The plane could have crashed into the U.S. Capitol, where the House floor was crowded with members.

Constitutional amendments that were proposed during the height of the Cold War have been resurrected in varying form since Sept. 11, to provide for emergency appointments to the House in the event of such a catastrophe. An amendment proposed by Rep. Brian Baird, D-Wash., and co-sponsored by Rep. Neil Abercrombie, would allow interim gubernatorial appointments to the House, pending special election, in case at least one-fourth of the House members are killed or incapacitated. Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., has proposed a similar measure, with a kick-in threshold of one-half the members.

Former House Speakers Thomas Foley, D-Wash., and Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., have suggested a preferable system: Each House member would pre-designate an interim successor to serve between a catastrophic loss of House members and special election of successors. Their proposal would maintain members' allegiance to their respective districts rather than to their states.


Published by Oahu Publications Inc., a subsidiary of Black Press.

Don Kendall, Publisher

Frank Bridgewater, Editor 529-4791;
Michael Rovner, Assistant Editor 529-4768;
Lucy Young-Oda, Assistant Editor 529-4762;

Mary Poole, Editorial Page Editor, 529-4790;
John Flanagan, Contributing Editor 294-3533;

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