This, from Tom Schaller, seems unduly dismissive of the policy substance involved:
With all due respect to the late senator, I think it’s a bad idea to suddenly change the law, even if the motives are to honor a long-serving senator and also to ensure that the state is not underrepresented in the Senate. Given that the current–and in my opinion, stupid–procedure was enacted by state Democrats with partisan motives to thwart then-Gov. Mitt Romney were he to have the power to appoint a successor in 2004 to John Kerry had Kerry won the presidential election, the calls for altering it again so soon after it was changed (and again with at least a partially partisan intent) would set, or rather continue, a dangerous precedent.
Tom’s certainly right that both steps here – moving from a gubernatorial appointment until the next midterm or general election to a special election, and from a special election without an interim to a special election preceded by an interim appointment – are being / were taken for the most crass political reasons possible. And perhaps validating those motives sets a bad precedent.
But the end result is also the best policy. Special elections are more democratic than long-term interims, and special elections with a short-term interim allow states to not go unrepresented. There are some more regulations I’d add, such as Wyoming’s requirement that the interim be from the same party as the incumbent, or a requirement that the interim not run in the special election. But the basic structure is better than the alternatives, enough so that the process through which it came to be does not particularly bother me.
In a way, it is somewhat fitting that Kennedy’s passing resulted in this kind of policy improvement. His whole career was built around finding ways to exploit the political selfishness and cynicism of other actors and institutions to push through legislation that benefits a greater good. While that does not appear to be a conscious strategy in this case, it is the overall effect, and I’d like to think that Teddy would respect that.