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Interim senator may help sway major issues

| Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2013, 8:24 p.m.

BOSTON — Although his time in the Senate will be brief — less than five full months — William “Mo” Cowan could find himself in the thick of major policy debates from the federal budget to immigration reform and gun control.

Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick on Wednesday appointed Cowan, his former chief of staff, to serve as the interim senator for Massachusetts until a special election is held June 25 to fill the seat left vacant by John Kerry's confirmation as the nation's next secretary of State.

Cowan, 43, will be the state's second black senator. Edward Brooke, a Republican, served two terms from 1967-1979.

With the “fiscal cliff” agreement Jan. 1 and looming automatic spending cuts, known as sequester, expected to take effect in March, Cowan said he backed a balanced approach to the nation's fiscal woes that include some spending cuts and new revenues.

“I don't think anyone believes it's in the best interests to do straight across-the-board cuts,” he said.

“If a sequester happens, it's going to have significant impact on Massachusetts,” he added. Some of the cuts could target grants to the state's highly regarded universities and research facilities.

Cowan, 43, stepped down last month as chief of staff, a post he assumed in 2010 after previously serving as Patrick's chief legal counsel.

Patrick lauded Cowan for helping manage the state through the recession and said he had earned the respect of people throughout government.

“In every step, he has brought preparation, perspective, wisdom, sound judgment and clarity of purpose,” Patrick said while introducing Cowan at a Statehouse news conference.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said Wednesday that he believes President Obama will be encouraged by the appointment of Cowan, along with a record number of female senators, “because he believes that diversity adds to the quality of debate.”

In the days leading up to the selection, Patrick said that he would consider diversity in his choice of interim senator. He had insisted that the interim appointment be someone with no interest in holding the job permanently, and Cowan went further on Wednesday by saying he had no intention of running for any elected office in the future.

“This is going to be a very short political career,” he joked.

Former Democratic U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, who recently retired after more than three decades in the House, had been the only person to publicly express interest in the interim post, and Patrick had acknowledged that Frank was among those he had considered.

Wednesday was the second time that Patrick has selected an interim senator. In 2009, following the death of Sen. Edward Kennedy, Patrick named Paul Kirk, a Democratic party operative and Kennedy family friend, to serve until a January 2010 special election that was won by Republican Scott Brown.

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