BOSTON -- Although his time in the U.S. 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 U.S. 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 African-American senator. Edward Brooke, a Republican, served two terms from 1967-1979.
In the wake of 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.
Patrick and Lt. Governor Timothy Murray added that the affable Cowan -- who eschewed his trademark bowtie in favor of a traditional suit and necktie for Wednesday's announcement -- also brings a certain amount of "cool" to the job.
Cowan grew up in North Carolina and graduated from Duke University and Northeastern University's law school. He was a partner in the prominent Boston law firm of Mintz Levin before going to work for Patrick, the state's first black governor.