Repeal the 17th Amendment?
Why would returning to the system of allowing state legislatures to choose Senators improve representation?
I should start by acknowledging that repeal of the Seventeenth Amendment is hardly a mainstream issue and certainly not anything likely to come about (which is an understatement). However, the fact that there are people out there seeking its repeal is sufficient to garner comment, especially since said persons were significant enough within factions of the Tea Party movement to actually get some Senate candidates to state that they were in support of the repeal.
Further, every once in a while I will get a commenter who is favor a repeal, so it seems worth some discussion.
The proximate cause of this post is the following from TPMDC: Tea Party-Backed Repeal Of The 17th Amendment Gets Republicans Into Trouble
The “Repeal The 17th” movement is a vocal part of the overall tea party structure. Supporters of the plan say that ending the public vote for Senators would give the states more power to protect their own interests in Washington (and of course, give all of us “more liberty” in the process.) As their process of “vetting” candidates, some tea party groups have required candidates to weigh in on the idea of repeal in questionnaires. And that’s where the trouble starts.
In Ohio, Steve Stivers — the Republican attempting to unseat Democratic Rep. Mary Jo Kilroy in the state’s 15th District — came under fire from Democrats when it was revealed he had checked the box saying he would repeal the 17th Amendment on a tea party survey (see question 11here).
In Idaho, Republican Vaughn Ward is in a similar pickle. Ward, the NRCC’s choice to challenge Rep. Walt Minnick (D), is currently locked in a primary fight with state Rep. Raul Labrador. As happens so often in Republican primaries these days, the candidates are doing their best to appeal to the ultra-conservative vote. (And considering that Minnick is the lone Democrat to be called a Hero by the Tea Party Express, we’re talking extra tasty crispy conservative here.)
So as to avoid almost verbatim cut-and-paste of the TPMDC post, I will leave out the flip-flops and clarifications of the candidates, save to note that they came. Surf over to read the details. There is also discussion of Tea Party Boise’s reaction to the retraction of Ward.
It also worth noting that this is not just a Tea Party-linked issue:
There are, of course, plenty of conservative Republicans who favor repealing the 17th Amendment. Tim Bridgewater, the man who got the most votes at the Utah GOP convention that ousted Sen. Bob Bennett, says on his website that he’d support rewriting the constitution to put the power of choosing Senators in the hands of the states. And Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) has actually put forward legislation that would repeal the amendment.
In all truth, I find the whole notion to be a bizarre one. Here are some reasons why.
1) The notion that somehow having the state legislatures choose Senators is more representative of the state’s interest than having the voters of the state choose the Senator is odd on its face. It assumes that the state legislature is more representative of the state than the state’s citizens. Since the former is a non-random sample of the latter, it is rather unclear to me why this would be the case. Further, since the state legislature is chosen by the citizens of the state I am wholly unclear on why giving them the power to choose Senators makes that selection better for the state than allowing the citizens to select the Senators. Why the addition of a group of middle-men/women would improve the quality of selection is beyond me.
Why would this:
be superior to this?
The logic is strange insofar as it assumes that voters should be the fount of power for the legislature, which is the key power of state government, but the voters can’t be trusted to choose Senators.
Further, it assumes that politicians (i.e, state legislators) actually deserve more trust than voters.
This especially odd, as most citizens don’t pay all that much attention to their state legislators so ceding the power to that body to select Senators is like tossing it into a black box.
2) A corollary to the above: how can we say that there is a “state interest” that is separable from the interests of the people in a given state? There is a weird fetish here that reifies the state as though it is an entity at least in part separate from the people that live within its borders. If all the people left the state of Texas, then so, too, would Texas lose any “interests” as a state. It would just then be a lot of land.
3) It is wholly unclear (despite what “The Campaign to Restore Federalism” argues here) that Senators selected by state legislatures would behave all that differently in terms of things like pork barrel spending and the basic behavior of the federal government than one elected by the citizens. What, state legislatures don’t like highway and education funding?
4) There is no reason to associate the nature of selection of Senators with the quality or existence of federalism. Despite what some argue, the states still maintain a great deal of policy autonomy in a number of areas (the same ones they have for a long time now, like criminal justice and education) and the very nature of the Senate, with co-equal representation further solidifies federalism. The way those Senators are selected really have very little to do with any of that.