Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Senate and the Loss of Federalism

Tucked into this story about GOP desires to take on recently appointed Democratic Senators is word of an initiative by Senator Russ "Campaign Finance" Feingold to create a Constitutional Amendment requiring states to have special elections to fill vacant Senate seats. Claiming that the citizens of states where Governors select Senators to fill vacant seats have no voice in their selection, Feingold went on to say that this power was a "relic" of the time when state legislatures elected Senators.

Are you aware that the for the first 124 years of this Republic, the Senate was populated by men selected by the state legislatures? Article I, Section 3: "The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, chosen by the Legislature thereof, for six Years; and each Senator shall have one Vote." The 17th Amendment, ratified in 1913 in a national fit of "reform", amended this provision and gave us directly elected Senators.

Many very smart Americans did not know this...they simply assumed that Senators were elected every six years, and House members every two. But our founders had a different idea, and they were prescient. The way they created the Congress was better than it is now.

The union they conceived was a union of states. The grand bargain of union required that these states relinquish a great deal of sovereign power to the federal government, in order that the benefits of union might flow to them. Federalism--a kind of government in which authority is split between a central government and other political units (in our case, states), was one of the major tenets of this new constitution. The large, populous states were not interested in a legislature in which the small, mouthy states could outvote them. The small states weren't interested in a legislature in which they would be railroaded by the large states. The grand bargain struck was the bicameral legislature, with the House of Representatives--directly answerable to the people every two years and comprised of members in proportion to state populations--and a Senate, in which each state would be equally represented.

The thoughts of our founders were that the Senate--with a third of its members up for re-election (in the state legislatures) every two years and terms of six years--would be a body of contemplative thought, above the passions of the day that would be on display in the more raucous House. Most importantly though...they saw the Senate as the place in our federal government in which the States--as political entities unto themselves---had a voice. The 17th Amendment killed that, and with it, one of the major underpinnings of our Republic (federalism) was dangerously weakened.

Now Senator Feingold wants to weaken it further. You see, how Senate seats are filled in the event of vacancy is up to the individual states. Most have governors appoint people to fill either the remainder of the term or the until the next Congress convenes...and some have special elections. Feingold wants there to be a constitutional amendment REQUIRING states to have elections. Most telling however, was his statement of the power to appoint as being a "relic" of the past. I'm here to tell Senator Feingold...the prince of campaign finance...that his fascination with the pernicious impact of money in politics is only FUELED by direct election of Senators, something he considers to be a quaint relic of the past.

Now, every six years a senate seat is up for grabs. Whereas before, the already seated legislature would select someone to fill the seat as part of its normal proceedings...we now have gigantic, expensive, money-fueled elections that are simply magnified mirrors of the ghoul-show that is elections for the House. Whereas before, Senators were beholden to the state legislature and ITS interests in the federal government, we now have preening show-horses who truly believe themselves to be national figures and whose re-election campaigns are fueled by money flowing in from outside of their states.

I rise in opposition to Senator Feingold's proposed Constitutional Amendment, and propose its substitution with one overturning the 17th Amendment. The Republic could use a brake upon the continuing accumulation of power in the federal government, and a renewed and powerful Senate is the place to do it.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Agree 100%. The House was intended to be the "body of the people" and the Senate was the "body of the states." Much of that has been lost and original intentions forgotten.

As a side note, it is always interesting to observe in the Constitution which powers are given to the House and which to the Senate as these bodies represent their respective entities. Through that, a lot can be gleaned on the collective motives in that convention in 1787.

Navy Anon said...

Amen Bryan - great post!

So, when are you going to run for office?

Nathan said...

Ok McG, I'm officially a follower. Looking forward to some good banter

The Conservative Wahoo said...

No running for office here....at least not for a while. The Kitten won't hear of it.

Welcome Nathan, it is great to have you here.

The People Are Stupid said...

What is most interesting and frightening to me is that the folks that have the most interaction with their elected representatives are the least educated about what happens on the Hill. It makes me a believer that in at least one house, there ought to be separation from the whims of the nutjobs who call in to Washington Journal.

Mudge said...

Feingold is merely following his knee's reflex reaction to Blago. Whenever a child is locked in a car trunk, a nut case kills with a gun or a governor acts consistent with his political upbringing, people like Feingold believe there must be a law, immmediately, to prevent it from ever happening again. He is the same kind who, as a teacher, would keep the entire class for detention because two of the 30 were talking in class. Never mind the good behavior that you are punishing, just so long as you don't have to face the challenge of actually holding individual perpetrators accountable themselves. No, that is too hard when you can easily and hastily craft legislation, no matter the unintended consequences. Great post by the way.

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