Posts Tagged ‘Seventeenth Amendment’
January 25th, 2010 at 7:18 pm
Reconsidering “The People’s Seat”

In the wake of Massachusetts Senator-elect Scott Brown’s upset victory, it looks like there might be slogan for other Republican senatorial candidates to ride to victory.  Brown got the nation’s attention when he reminded David Gergen that the seat he was running for didn’t belong to the Kennedy family or the Democratic Party.  It is “the people’s seat”.  Now the Republican frontrunner to take President Obama’s old senate seat is saying the same thing in Illinois.  That kind of populist shout-out certainly energizes the voters and activists disdainful of machine politics.  But it also serves as a reminder of how different U.S. Senate elections have become since the Founding Fathers framed them.

Originally, state legislatures elected United States Senators.  The idea was to give the states themselves a voice in the national government.  The effect was to make a state’s U.S. Senator similar to a prime minister because a vote for a state legislator was (indirectly) a vote for a U.S. Senate candidate.  (Incidentally, John F. Kennedy’s “Profiles in Courage” has a delightful chapter about one such race featuring Missouri’s incomparable Thomas Benton.)  Of course, the Seventeenth Amendment changed all that when it made senators directly elected by a state’s voting public.  Had the original constitutional structure been retained, Scott Brown would likely not be Massachusetts’ new senator because the state’s legislature is dominated by Democrats.  On the other hand, if it were still in effect, would it be more or less likely to have senators who thought of themselves as mini-presidents?  If less, it seems likely that representatives of one government to another would be much more likely to question the expansion of the federal at the expense of the states.

Maybe then we wouldn’t need to worry so much about senators getting captured by the trappings of office.  Their state legislature would be quick to pry them out if ever they forgot for whom they worked.