Restore the Republic-repeal the 17th AmendmentAdam Graham has written a great post at Where I Stand about an issue that I care deeply about but often feel like I am either A.) Preaching to the choir when I mention anything about it or B.) I get blank stares from people who don't understand the concept. Adam is right on the money that the 17th Amendment has been an absolute and utter failure. We need something we are not going to get in this country and that is a thorough national debate on whether the direct election of Senators has a good idea for our union.
When the framers of the Constitution designed Congress, it was specifically designed with two houses to deal with two very important issues-popular representation and State oversight. The larger States wanted popular representation based on numbers alone in both the House and the Senate because that would, of course, give them more clout. That was the gyst of the Virginia Plan. The Connecticut Compromise was the plan under which the Constitutional government was formed, and it called for a House of Represenatives to be apportioned based on population. The Senate would be designed so that there would be an equal number of Senators from each State, and Senators were to be designated by their respective State legislatures because they were to represent the interests of not only their States, but the governments of those States as well. Senators served a six-year term, but were subject to recall by the same legislature that appointed them. The system was purposefully designed to reflect the interests of the population of the Union at-large (the House) and the interests of the States at the same time (the Senate).
In choosing to popularly elect Senators, we have perverted this intention of the framers. We have turned the Senate into a virtual carbon copy of the House, with the only difference being that there are two Senators for each State, except that Senators can filibuster legislation. Far worse, perhaps, is the reality that Senators today are virtually free from State oversight. The recall process, while legally possible, is in reality much more difficult in most States than it would have been for a State legislator to recall a Senator.
The most devastating side-effect of the popular election of federal Senators is that the importance of State legislatures and State government has been greatly diminished in the eyes of Joe Sixpack on the street. There are many voters who only vote in a Presidential election year and may vote for a Senator in that year. Many others do vote in all federal and State elections, but when they complain about the problems with government, they often blame whoever is in power in Washington for the problem when often part (and often all) of the blame may lay in Nashville. If Senators were chosen by the State General Assembly, elections for those Houses would suddenly become extremely important in the eyes of many voters. Who is selected for a federal Senate seat may be determined by who controls the State legislature-and accounts of elections in many States during the period of legislative Senate selection bears this out.
People would likely take a far greater interest in who their State Representative and Senator are, what those people's positions are on the issues that affect voters' lives, and of course who their man or woman is for the U.S. Senate. That doesn't diminish democracy-it enhances it at a State and local level-it localizes the federal government.
I should note here for skeptical liberals that had the vote been party-line, Harold Ford Jr. would have been sent to the United States Senate from Tennessee by a vote of 69-62 (then again, if people knew that their legislature was selecting their U.S. Senator, perhaps the composition might be somewhat different).
We need greater power in the hands of the States, and the easiest way to guarantee that is to return to a system that was intended to make that happen.
Labels: Federal politics