From screwball territory: Don’t elect U.S. senators

Posted Thursday, Oct. 10, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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With all the craziness going on in Washington over the cuckoo ideas of shutting down the government over a political disagreement and even defaulting on the nation’s debt, you’d think the market for legislative lunacy might be completely cornered.

No, there are still more screwball movements out there. One of them, which apparently is getting some attention among some of the declared candidates for Texas lieutenant governor, is that we should do away with the direct election of U.S. senators and go back to having the Texas Legislature select them.

That’s right, democracy in reverse. Take power away from the people.

A bit of a statewide stir over this happened last week after social media and blog reports that the Republican Lite Guv candidates commented on it at a Tea Party forum in Clear Lake.

One of them, Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, later posted on Facebook that he wasn’t part of the discussion and doesn’t like the idea of changing how we go about choosing senators.

It’s not one of the issues that gets talked about a lot — maybe because the only place it might get traction is at a Tea Party forum. Still, it’s out there.

The Constitution, as it was adopted in 1788, originally called for state legislatures to name their U.S. senators. That’s the way things were until the Progressive reformers of the early 20th century pointed out problems.

The Progressives said the legislatures and their Senate appointees had become puppets of the wealthy. The 17th Amendment, saying senators must be chosen by statewide elections, was ratified April 8, 1913.

Some people might argue that legislators and U.S. senators still favor the wealthy, but at least for more than a century they’ve had to get voter approval every six years.

Fortunately, doing away with the 17th Amendment would be very difficult. The change would have to be approved by two-thirds of the U.S. House and Senate and ratified by three-fourths of the state legislatures (that’s 38 states).

A second method, never used, would be for two-thirds of the state legislatures to call for a constitutional convention, with any changes ratified by three-fourths of the states.

That’s a lot of trouble for a dumb idea.

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