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Senate short-timers can still leave a mark

Mo Cowan’s tenure in the U.S. Senate -- lasting for just more than 150 days -- comes to an end on Tuesday, when he’s replaced by recently elected Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA).

Meanwhile, Sen. Jeff Chiesa (R-NJ) has been on his temporary job for less than six weeks, voting for the immigration-reform legislation that cleared the Senate last month and also announcing his personal opposition to gay marriage.

Cowan and Chiesa happen to be two of 194 appointed senators since 1913 (when direct elections for the office were introduced), and two of 11 appointed in the last four years. According to Dr. Eric Ostenmeier, author of the Smart Politics blog, a third of senators -- including Chiesa and Cowan -- have chosen not to run, serving as caretakers for vacated Senate seats.

And while the other two-thirds have gone on to run for election to hold onto the office, just less than half of them have won.

In other words, an appointed senator’s time in Washington can be short. But they can still leave a mark.

“For the most part, for someone who serves less than six months or less than a year, it’s difficult for them to make a huge legislative mark because the legislative process is cumbersome and takes time,” said Betty Koed, the Senate’s associate historian. 

But Koed adds that an appointed senator doesn’t necessarily have to be a legislative master to be remembered in history.

Take Rebecca Felton (D-GA). Appointed in 1922 at the age of 86, she served just 24 hours in the Senate. “She had a huge impact on the Senate, because she broke the gender barrier and opened the door for other women senators to follow her,” Koed said. Just a few years later, Hattie Caraway (D-AR) was appointed to the Senate and went on to serve more than two terms, making her the first woman to be elected to a Senate seat. 

Others have left a legislative mark, despite serving a short time in the Senate. “Sometimes they just come in and they just happen to be in the right place at the right time, and they happen to be an appointed senator who’s serving when an important bill is being considered,” Koed told NBC.

That applies to fairly recent appointed senators like Ted Kaufman (D-DE) and Carte Goodwin (D-WV).

Kaufman -- who served as Joe Biden’s chief of staff in the Senate and was appointed to his seat after Biden became vice president -- authored an amendment to the Senate’s health-care bill that passed on Dec. 24, 2009.  That amendment made it easier to catch people committing health care fraud.  In addition, alongside Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Kaufman co-sponsored the Fraud Enforcement Recovery Act of 2009, which was designed to go after people on Wall Street involved in fraud and other criminal activity during the economic meltdown. 

“I actually got down to the White House when they signed the bill and got to stand on the platform with the president when the bill was signed—that was a big deal,” Kaufman said in an interview with NBC News. “I never thought that would happen.”

He also had the chance to pass his own bill, the Pre-Election Presidential Transition Act of 2009, allowing candidates to pass certain rules that start right after the convention to prepare for the transition. Kaufman attributes some of his legislative success, including his key committee assignments, to years of Capitol Hill experience and 19 years working as chief of staff for Biden. “[Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid] knew that I knew my way around and could get on the committee and actually make a contribution from day one,” Kaufman said.

And Goodwin, who served only 123 days in the Senate in 2010 at the age of 36 -- making him the youngest former senator in U.S. history -- also cast some key votes. He voted for Supreme Court Justice nominee Elena Kagan, which helped her win confirmation. And according to an NPR report, shortly after he was sworn in, he broke the Republican filibuster on the extension of unemployment benefits by providing the 60th vote. After choosing not to run to fill the seat permanently, Goodwin went on to continue his legal practice at Goodwin & Goodwin, where he still uses his political experience to advise clients on government relations.

Another appointed senator who cast key votes was Paul Kirk (D-MA), who provided Democrats their crucial 60th vote – on health care and other matters – after Ted Kennedy passed away in Aug. 2009.

Perhaps among the most successful recently appointed senators is Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), who took office in 2009 and won re-election for her first full term in 2012.  Gillibrand played an active role in the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in 2010, introduced the STOCK Act (which passed in 2012), and actively lobbied for the immigration reform bill that cleared the Senate. She also has pushed to make education and childcare affordable and to end sexual violence in the military. 

According to Kaufman, there’s no simple answer to what makes an appointed senator successful, but for an organization based largely on seniority, experience can provide leverage. 

“If I were, as a political scientist, making a suggestion to a governor who’s going to make an appointment for a short term who was not going to run again, I’d say pick someone that knows the Senate—you know, someone like Paul Kirk or someone like me or someone that can arrive and hit the ground running,” he said.

Here’s where the 11 senators appointed in the last four years are today:

Michael F. Bennett (D-CO)

Dates served: Jan. 2009 - present

Jeffrey S. Chiesa (R-NJ)

Dates served: Jun. 2013-present

William “Mo” Cowan (D-MA)

Dates served: Feb. 2013 – present

Note: Ed Markey will replace him this month. Although he has not yet resigned from office, a spokesperson for Sen. Cowan says that he is looking forward to spending time with his family when his term concludes.

Kirsten E. Gillibrand (D-NY)

Dates served: Jan. 2009 – present

Won election in 2010 and 2012

Carte P. Goodwin (D-WV)

Dates served: July 2010 - Nov. 2010

Currently: Goodwin has resumed his legal practice at Goodwin & Goodwin located in Charles, West Virginia.  He still uses his political experience advising clients on government relations issues.

Dean Heller (R-NV)

Dates served: May 2011 - present

Won election in 2012

Ted Kaufman (D-DE)

Dates served: Jan. 2009 - Nov. 2010

Currently:  Kaufman is a visiting professor teaching at the Duke University School of Law.  He also writes a weekly column in the News Journal.

Paul G. Kirk (D-MA)

Dates served: Sept. 2009 – Feb. 2010

Currently: Kirk currently serves as Chairman and President at a business advisory and consulting firm called Kirk & Associates, Inc.

George S. LeMieux (R-FL)

Dates served: Sept. 2009 - Jan. 2011

Currently: LeMieux currently practices law at Gunster Law Firm, a business law firm located in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. His practice includes business litigation and corporate strategic counseling 

Brian Schatz (D-HI)

Dates served: Dec. 2012 - present

Tim Scott (R-SC)

Dates served: Jan. 2013 – present