Monday, February 15, 2010

A Good Time To Revisit The 17th

Indiana just turned into a circus with Evan Bayh's retirement announcement. It wouldn't be the case if the 17th Amendment hadn't been passed.

Quick! What's the 17th?
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.

Big deal, right? Prior to the passage of the 17th, the various state legislatures appointed their two US Senators, for the purpose of protecting the interests of the states.

It was with great amusement that I visited the Daily Kos to observe the wailing, anguish, and knashing of teeth over the 'betrayal' of Bayh to the Democratic Party. You know what? If you're in any state other than Indiana, you can get bent! Bayh isn't your Senator! Project the failings of your party onto your own Congress Critter!

Now, I know- it's impossible to reconcile the votes of Bayh and Dick Lugar and conclude that both could possibly have had the interests of Indiana in mind. And, prior to the passage of the 17th, the state's legislature could have observed the very thing, and recalled one or the other, and installed a new Senator.

While the push for direct election of Senators was populist inspired, and while it did take that power away from the states (the real Point Of Beginning for the diminuation of State's Rights, btw), it empowered a new class like never before- corporate donors, which tend to be national interests.

Ironically, it was also intended to diminish the influence 'industrialists' had over Senators. Oops! The anticipated main attraction in Bayh vs. Coats was to be the attacks against Bayh's corporate interest wife, and against Coats' corporate interest last 12 years.

This wouldn't be, couldn't be, with legislature appointed Senators. There would be no campaign committees for Senators. They wouldn't spend their time chummying with lobbyists for the purpose of trading law for war chests. They would have to please their statehouse.


Doug said...

Today's reforms are tomorrow's corruption, my high school history teacher liked to tell us.

But, I'll disagree that the 17th Amendment was the real Point Of Beginning for the diminuation of State's Rights.

The Civil War was where states rights advocates made their biggest play in an effort to continue to own other people. And, of course, they lost.

Wainstead said...

If I'm not mistaken, partisan rancor in your own statehouse contributed to the passage of the 17th Amendment, because it was stopping the Federal gubbimint from getting its job done... let's check ye olde wikipedia:

"This process worked without major problems through the mid-1850s, when the American Civil War was in the offing. Because of increasing partisanship and strife, many state legislatures failed to elect Senators for prolonged periods. For example, in Indiana the conflict between Democrats in the southern half of the state and the emerging Republican Party in the northern half prevented a Senate election for two years. The aforementioned partisanship led to contentious battles in the legislatures, as the struggle to elect Senators reflected the increasing regional tensions in the lead up to the Civil War."

Now, I favor a return to this (i.e. I support overturning the 17th), but let us not blame popularity for the reason.

Of course, if you think Washington, D.C. is rife with bad things, your state legislature probably can hold many candles to them:

"After the Civil War, the problems multiplied. In one case in the mid-1860s, the election of Senator John P. Stockton from New Jersey was contested on the grounds that he had been elected by a plurality rather than a majority in the state legislature.[1] Stockton defended himself on the grounds that the exact method for elections was murky and varied from state to state. To keep this from happening again, the Congress passed a law in 1866 regulating how and when Senators were to be elected from each state. This was the first change in the process of senatorial elections. While the law helped, there were still deadlocks in some legislatures and accusations of bribery, corruption, and suspicious dealings in some elections. Nine bribery cases were brought before the Senate between 1866 and 1906, and 45 deadlocks occurred in 20 states between 1891 and 1905, resulting in numerous delays in seating Senators. Beginning in 1899, Delaware did not send a senator to Washington for four years."

(continuing from ye olde wikipedia).

Mike Kole said...

@Doug- I like what your history teacher had to say. But, not to make too fine a point on the Civil War, it was not over the ability to own people. Please explain Union States West Virigia, Delaware, Missouri, Kentucky, and Maryland, if this were so.

@Wainstead- it was the issues leading to the Civil War that caused that kind of stalemate. Worked for 75 years up til then, and then again for another 50 or so. Which is to say, most of the time.

We're human beings, fallible and all. Perfect vs. Good. &c. But in the end, I wouldn't mind seeing a good, deep-seeded argument in the statehouse over the merits of an appointment, over the merits of not acting, rather than a dumb horse race, where the most money means the guy with the best ads wins.