Why take us back to the 1950s when we can go all the way back to the 1850s?
Should voters be able choose their U.S. senators?
Ask Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst or Sen. Dan Patrick and the answer is a resounding “No.”
The two Republicans – both vying for the lieutenant governor seat – recently voiced support to strip voters of the ability to elect U.S. senators and hand over that power back to state lawmakers. It would require repealing the 17th Amendment, which for the last 100 years has provided for the direct election of senators by voters.
Dewhurst and Patrick this month said a repeal is warranted to temper the federal government’s influence and because senators in Washington are out of touch with their state legislatures.
Even though there is no realistic chance of Congress taking action to repeal the power of the people to elect senators, the topic has become somewhat of a litmus test for tea party supporters the last couple years; a number of Republicans across the country – including Gov. Rick Perry and Sen. Ted Cruz – have endorsed the notion.
The repeal rhetoric has seeped into an already heated lieutenant governor’s campaign, where all four candidates are dueling to win over the most conservative part of the state’s Republican base.
“If you look at the lieutenant governor’s race, this fits perfectly into the narrative because it’s been all about the drive to win the most conservative members of the Republican primary electorate,” said Mark Jones, a Rice University political science professor. “The 17th Amendment reform has been a rallying point in the tea party movement for the past few years, but it’s pure symbolic politics because there is no possibility whatsoever we’re going to repeal the 17th Amendment.”
The U.S. Constitution originally sought to buttress state power by allowing legislatures to pick senators. The idea gave way to a culture of corruption, with allegations of special interests bribing lawmakers for senate appointments.
Ratified in 1913, the 17th Amendment was tailored to end backroom deals and cronyism.
There’s so much irony here it’s almost hard to know where to begin. Besides being anti-(small d) democratic, putting this power in the hands of a state legislature would make it a complete exercise in insiderism. The Tea Party claims to be grassroots-driven; this would be the antithesis of that. And let’s be clear, as the story notes, if this had existed in Texas in 2012, our junior Senator would be one David Dewhurst. I get why he supports this, but why Cruz does is a bit less clear. At least, it’s unclear until you realize that it’s all of a piece with the efforts to restrict voting, via voter ID and more stringent voter registration laws and smaller windows for early voting and whatever else they haven’t thought up yet. They don’t want people to vote – most of them, anyway – so they work to prevent them from voting. The fact that the 17th Amendment isn’t going anywhere shouldn’t obscure the fact that Dan Patrick and David Dewhurst support this scaling-back of democracy. The one consolation is that people seem to be able to see through it. I just hope they remember that next November.