ALBANY, N.Y. — Republicans in New York's Legislature are pushing for a special election to fill the expected vacancy in the U.S. Senate instead of allowing Democratic Gov. David Paterson to make a unilateral appointment through a secretive process.
The efforts, however, are by traditionally powerless minority conferences of the Assembly and Senate and face a near impossible timetable to even get the bills to floor debates before Paterson chooses Hillary Rodham Clinton's successor from a field of Democrats including Caroline Kennedy and Andrew Cuomo.
Assembly Minority Leader James Tedisco, a Schenectady Republican, warned that filling vacancies without an election is "diminishing democracy."
"If you start to diminish democracy, you start going to totalitarianism," Tedisco said.
He noted that Kennedy, the perceived front-runner, has no record in elected office and her positions on public policy are largely unknown.
"We need an election _ not a coronation _ to ensure our next U.S. senator reflects the will of the people," Tedisco said.
In a press conference, Tedisco distributed an Associated Press story released Monday in which New York's expert on open government and others criticized the secrecy with which Paterson is vetting candidates.
Tedisco also noted the scandal in Illinois, where Gov. Rod Blagojevich is accused of trying to sell his appointment for the Senate seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama. After a failed effort by legislators to force a special election for the Senate job, Blagojevich appointed Roland Burris, who is not accused of wrongdoing and is expected to be accepted by the Senate this week.
"I'm not equating our governor with the governor of Illinois ... but you can see what happens," Tedisco said.
The Assembly's Democratic majority will send Tedisco's bill through its committee system, where it could stay long after Paterson makes his choice.
Republican Sen. Joseph Griffo of Oneida County submitted a bill similar to Tedisco's in the Senate Tuesday, but Democratic Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith has no plans to take it up.
"Sen. Smith has total confidence in the governor making the decision on the U.S. Senate seat which serves the needs of all New Yorkers," said Smith spokesman Austin Shafran. "Any legislation that seeks to diminish the governor's authority is unnecessary and unwarranted."
The U.S. Constitution allows state legislatures to give the appointment power to governors, but the bodies aren't required to do so and could rescind the authority.
Paterson spokeswoman Erin Duggan said the governor will consider any legislation passed by both chambers. Typically, that takes several weeks.
Paterson is continuing private meetings with as many as 15 people he said are in the running for the Senate seat. He has refused to release all their names but Kennedy and Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi are among those he already has met. He's also reviewing lengthy questionnaires _ also secret _ that he asked all hopefuls to submit.
Paterson expects to announce his decision within days, once Clinton is confirmed as secretary of state.
Tedisco argued that if the next senator is appointed, that will mean New York will have an unelected governor, comptroller, and U.S. senator. And the lieutenant governor's office vacancy _ open since Paterson rose to governor _ can't be filled by law until the 2010 election.
State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo is considered among the top contenders for the Senate appointment. Were he to get it, Sen. Charles Schumer would be the only official in statewide elected office who was actually elected.