I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I just don’t get this.
Sen. Ted Cruz, elected 13 months ago by actual voters, said Thursday he’d prefer to see state legislators pick U.S. senators – as they were until a century ago, when the 17th Amendment came along.
Direct election of senators has eroded states’ rights, Cruz argued, speaking to a ballroom filled with conservative state lawmakers from around the country.
“If you have the ability to hire and fire me,” he said, “I’m a lot less likely to break into your house and steal your television. So there’s no doubt that was a major step toward the explosion of federal power and the undermining of the authority of the states at the local level.”
The 17th Amendment was ratified in 1913 amid dismay that powerful federal lawmakers were sometimes picked through corruption and backroom deals. It was also partly a response to growing public irritation that even as more and more Americans had the right to vote, they got no say in who represented them in the Senate.
Cruz spoke over lunch to a policy summit of the American Legislative Exchange Council, a controversial group that for years has quietly circulated “model” legislation on anything from voter ID rules to tax policy. He got standing ovations.
Of course he did. If one takes his analogy seriously, though, doesn’t that mean that by taking away the ability to hire and fire him from regular voters, he’s therefore a lot more likely to break into their houses and steal their TVs? For someone who’s supposedly this world-class ninja-level debater, that seems like an awfully dumb thing to say.
One thing I’ve been curious about is just how much support there is for this seemingly crazy, anti-democratic idea. Turns out the answer is not so much, at least according to one poll.
According to a recent HuffPost/YouGov poll, attacking the 17th Amendment has little appeal outside the most conservative circles. It’s even very unpopular among Republicans as a whole.
Conservative advocates argue that taking the selection of senators away from state legislatures improperly shifted power to the federal government. ALEC is considering backing draft legislation that would chip away at the century-old amendment by letting state legislatures place Senate candidates on the ballot along with those candidates nominated by the political parties through their primaries or conventions.
The HuffPost/YouGov poll found that, so far at least, Republicans have not been persuaded: 83 percent of them said they preferred the popular vote for Senate elections (only 12 percent favored election by state legislatures) and 73 percent of them said the 17th Amendment should remain in place (18 percent favored repeal).
Support for repealing the 17th Amendment was higher among self-identified “very conservative” respondents and those who consider themselves members of the tea party.
Republicans as a whole were stauncher defenders of the 17th Amendment than Democrats or independents were. Compared to those 83 percent of Republicans, lesser majorities of 71 percent of Democrats and 65 percent of independents said they preferred direct election of senators. Democrats and independents were somewhat more likely than Republicans to say they weren’t sure, not to say they preferred election by state legislatures.
Overall, only 11 percent of Americans said they think senators should be elected by state legislatures rather than by popular vote, while 71 percent said they preferred the status quo. Sixty-four percent said the 17th Amendment should remain in place, and 16 percent said it should be repealed.
Full poll information is here. I should note that Ted Cruz isn’t the only elected Republican in Texas that supports this. I realize that Cruz is playing a long game here, but these are some pretty strong numbers to try to reverse. I realize there are bigger things on which to stand against Ted Cruz, but a little more pushback here would be nice. It would also be nice if the UT/Texas Trib pollsters did a check on this question, which as far as I can tell, they have not yet done. Let’s see how popular this idea is with the voters that would be directly affected by Ted Cruz’s wild idea.