Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Let People Elect Senators--Every Time

Back in December, while talking about the Rod Blagojevich circus and the possibility that Caroline Kennedy would be appointed to the Senate, I proposed a constitutional amendment barring governors from appointing people to fill vacant Senate seats.

Senator Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) is about to introduce that amendment. What's that you say? Well. OK, if you insist, I'll take the credit. 

Seriously though, the Senate is a drag on democracy. It wasn't until 1913, with the 17th Amendment, that the people (instead of state legislatures) could directly elect Senators. The power of governors to name Senators when there's a mid-term vacancy is a holdover from the pre-1913 days. 

Sen. Feingold points out in a statement on his website that the Constitution mandates special elections to fill vacant House seats. It should do the same for the Senate. 

It seems to me that if this amendment could ever pass, it would pass now, thanks mainly to Governor Rod Blagojevich. It's hard for me to imagine where much opposition would come from. How do you stand up and say that in many cases the people of a state should not directly elect one of their most important representatives?

Check out Feingold's article on Daily Kos, "A new effort to empower the people," where he addresses common objections to the proposal.


Scott said...

The only argument against it, I believe, is the cost associated with actually conducting elections and the undoubtedly tight time frame the parties and candidates would have to raise money, prepare their message, etc.

Becky said...

Yeah, the whole thing, even without Blago, kind of stinks of cronyism. Or the potential for cronyism.

Amy said...

Wow. Who knew old Russ was a Better Than Machines reader? I had no idea about the whole 1913 thing. That's really interesting. Thanks, Mr. History!

And Blago...seriously, this guys is fascinating to me. This is either the biggest case of denial EVER, or he's purely delusional, or he is somehow telling the truth. You can't make this stuff up!

Anonymous said...

I'm not aware of everything in the bill, but I'd like to see some sort of campaign finance reform provisions in the bill. I would hate to see a lot of flash-bang elections held over the course of a few weeks where people are basically voting on name recognition and who happens to have loads of cash on hand for political ads, rather than a real evaluation of the candidates' platforms. This could also be an opportunity to push along campaign finance reform for other normal elections. Love, Mason

Anonymous said...

However, it is convenient that we may have a 60 seat Democratic majority in the Senate if Obama picks Gregg to be Commerce Sec and the NH Gov picks a Dem replacement!

Better Than Machines said...

Mason, I'm with you about the flash-bang elections, and I haven't heard that addressed anywhere yet. In Alaska, the law is that a special election has to be held 60 to 90 days after a seat becomes vacant. That's not much time to build a grassroots campaign, but I think even that is better an appointment by the governor.

You raise a good point that this amendment could be used as a way to bring up campaign finance reform in general. It seems like Feingold would have that on his mind.

Better Than Machines said...

Woops, I didn't see your second comment. My big question is would Gregg--or any Republican senator from a blue state--accept that offer? He would then face the wrath of his own party for the rest of his career. But maybe he--or another Repub--is ready to switch teams, with the way things are looking for them.

Phyllis said...

I don't know. As much as I want our government working for the people, we have a House for the population. I wonder if we shouldn't go back to a Senate for the several states... you know, while adding the rest of our states, instead of this colonialist crap.

If we're doing our jobs, our states will be working for our best interests, too. And that's the trick. This is our job. It doesn't work if we just blame them for screwing us over.