Too Much Democracy?
Zell Miller has come out of left field with a call for returning to our roots:
Miller, who is retiring in January, was first appointed to his post in 2000 after the death of Paul Coverdell. He said Wednesday that rescinding the 17th Amendment, which declared that senators should be elected, would increase the power of state governments and reduce the influence of Washington special interests.
“The individuals are not so much at fault as the rotten and decaying foundation of what is no longer a republic,” Miller said on the Senate floor. “It is the system that stinks. And it’s only going to get worse because that perfect balance our brilliant Founding Fathers put in place in 1787 no longer exists.”
The Constitution called for voters to directly elect members to the U.S. House but empowered state legislatures to pick senators. The aim was to create a bicameral Congress that sought to balance not only the influence of small and large states but also the influence of state and federal governments.
Miller said that balance was destroyed in 1913 with the ratification of the 17th Amendment. He has introduced a resolution, which he acknowledges has no chance of passage, to repeal the 17th Amendment and again let state legislatures pick senators.
Atrios says this is a “right wing idea that keeps getting batted around.” Oliver Willis sees it as part of a larger anti-democratic movement on the Right. I’m not sure who else is calling for this, to be honest.
I’d be interested in reading/hearing a longer version of Miller’s argument to see if it has any merit. From this short story, it’s unclear to me what problem he’s trying to solve. Federalism is certainly eroding as an institution, a phenomenon about which I have mixed reaction, but it’s not obvious to me how appointing Senators would change that. Power has shifted from state legislators to their constituents but Senators still represent their states. The legislature is still bicameral and the Houses are quite distinct. With the exception of the tiny states that have only one at-large Representative, the different electoral process tends to bring rather different people to each body. House members tend to be much more ideological than their Senate counterparts, owing both to the fact that the former must appeal to a much narrower constituency and because of the need for for more collegiality in the upper House.
If the argument is that appointed Senators would be less likely to be influenced by lobbyists and “special interests,” I doubt that it would work out that way. For one thing, most of the studies I’ve seen show that lobbying is effective only at the margins. By and large, groups target politicians that are already sympathetic by virtue of ideology and/or constituency. It is true that appointed Senators could presumably devote more time to their duties given that they’d not have to spend as much time campaigning or fundraising. The trade-offs would be even more lobbying at the state level to influence the appointment process and an even greater tendency for incumbents to remain in office.