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Repeal 17th or Abolish Senate

Recently there has been a lot of press over candidates who want (reportedly) to repeal the 17th Amendment to our Constitution. This is seen as an extreme far-right position by some and some candidates who appeared to favor repeal are backing off or claiming they never supported repeal.

Here is the text of the 17th Amendment, passed in 1913:

The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, elected by the people thereof, for six years; and each Senator shall have one vote. The electors in each State shall have the qualifications requisite for electors of the most numerous branch of the State legislatures.

When vacancies happen in the representation of any State in the Senate, the executive authority of such State shall issue writs of election to fill such vacancies: Provided, That the legislature of any State may empower the executive thereof to make temporary appointments until the people fill the vacancies by election as the legislature may direct.

This amendment shall not be so construed as to affect the election or term of any Senator chosen before it becomes valid as part of the Constitution.

I don’t consider myself a far right sort of person, but if we are going to keep the US Senate, I support repeal. Before 1913, Senators were appointed by the state legislatures. Why? Mostly because the Senate was originally envisioned as a guardian of State rights in general and of small states in particular. The House of Representatives, based on population, represented popular rule while the Senate was supposed to see to it that the States were not run over by the federal government.

People could and did argue that there should not be a division between interests of the American People and of the several states. People of the early 20th Century also argued that the Senate had become the house of the monied interests and had lost touch with both the people and with the interests of the country as a whole. Direct election of Senators was seen as a way to ensure they would be accountable to the voters and not to politicians and donors in smoke filled rooms back at the statehouse. Enter the 17th Amendment.

But things didn’t turned out the way the Progressives expected. The Senate continued to be the place where legislation opposed by the elites of our country went to die. Today more than ever Senators appear to be beholden to corporate contributors, many of whom have little on the ground presence in a Senator’s home state.

Returning election of Senators back to the State Legislatures would once again align Senate interests with State interests. In some places it would be a corrupt alignment, but at least contributors would be forced to buy entire state legislatures instead of individual Senators. Having statehouse election of Senators might also increase turnover in the Senate as state legislatures shifted from one party to another.

I’m serious. I think direct election of Senators is a failed experiment. It has not improved accountability in the way that the Progressives of the early 20th Century hoped for. We need to try something different.

But repeal of the 17th Amendment is not my favored choice. I think the United States ought to abolish the Senate and add the 100 seats to the House of Representatives. We ought to have a unicameral legislature. On the minus side we’ll have stronger swings from left to right as the House changes hands. On the positive side, each party will be able to implement its policies with a simple majority and thus be held strictly accountable for their actions. No more of this “the obstructionist Republican/Democrats” watered down our agenda and so you need to give us another chance. Even with a unicameral legislature, we’d still have two other branches of government for checks and balances. Not that checks and balances have worked out well since 2000, but it’s hard to see how it would get worse.

What do you think about the 17th Amendment and what would you do to reform Congress?


4 Responses

  1. You know, I never considered what you just spelled out. Does Miller feel this way or is it because the governor endorses him and he would be a shoo-in with Parnell at the helm?

    Thank you for a succinctly worded article. It is worth more consideration. I just wish anyone but Shady Joe had suggested it.

  2. According to the October 10, 2010 Fairbanks Daily News Miner at http://newsminer.com/bookmark/9861962-17th-Amendment-abides-but-let-s-repeal-VECO-amnesia expressed support for repeal on the grounds that direct election had weakened states rights. By Wednesday he sounded like he wouldn’t support a repeal.

    I’m still more strongly for abolishing the Senate altogether. Having two houses in Congress has never stalled a war or liberty-stealing pieces of legislation like the USA PATRIOT Act, or even public-domain stealing laws like the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. It just keeps appointments unfilled and allows one party to blame the other party for obstructionism.

    I have to admit that such a move would hurt smaller states and I’m not sure how to fix that. Anyone else have ideas?

  3. I don’t agree with the legislature appointing senators, but I do agree with changing to a unicameral legislature. The process of passing laws and getting any business done in this country is bogged down. Unicameral governments have been established recently in many countries including Venezuela and Iceland. They wanted to be able to implement changes quickly to get their business in order.

  4. Hi Celia, Thanks for stopping by.

    Implementing changes quickly is no benefit in and of itself. Witness the rush to invade Iraq in 2003 or the passage of the USA Patriot Act. Or even the establishment of the Department of Homeland Security. All of these things were done quickly without full vetting.

    But the Senate in it’s current form seems incapable of deterring bad law and rash actions. It excels at blocking government appointments and laws I find positive.

    So I favor abolishing it. I’ll dislike the system even more under Bush-like Presidents, but it will give reformists like Obama more to work with.

    In either case the ruling party will be fully accountable for their governing, which we desperately need. The current Congressional system allows all sides to dodge responsibility.

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