By Lynn Woolley
September 6, 2011
Texas Governor Rick Perry – now considered the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination is taking some heat for “controversial” positions outlined in his recent book, “Fed! Up! Our Fight to Save America From Washington.” One of those positions is that the people should not have the right to elect United States senators.
If Gov. Perry’s views on this issue are “extreme,” and “out of the mainstream,” as some writers and bloggers are charging, then the Framers of the Constitution must have been extremists as well. It was they who originally decided that senators should be chosen by the state legislatures.
Why did they do that?
Essentially, the Framers felt that the composition of the Senate should be determined in a manner that would protect federalism, as well as the interests of the smaller, less powerful states. Remember, the House of Representatives was to be chosen through direct election of the people, based on population. That, of course, is the most democratic way of naming our representatives. But the Framers believed in such a thing as too much democracy.
By naming senators through the legislature, the senators would be compelled to preserve the original federal design of the government – and to always represent the best interests of their states. That’s not very “populist,” but the Framers thought it unwise to invest too much power with the electorate.
Progressives of the time disagreed and they fought relentlessly for direct election. The first House resolution calling for the change was passed on February 14, 1826 and it was followed by 187 additional resolutions. On May 12, 1912, the 17th Amendment was passed by Congress and swift ratification followed. It became, perhaps, the biggest transfer of power from the states to the federal government in the history of the United States.
All of which explains why progressives pushed for direct election, and why Gov. Perry, as a proponent of the 10th Amendment, would oppose it.
If you’ll pay attention to the writing in newspaper articles, you’ll often notice the word “popular” used to describe many Big Government programs. Social Security is called “popular.” So is S-CHIP and WIC and Medicare and you-name-it. Most of the popular programs require big mandates placed on the states to make them work. Some of the states don’t like the mandates – but remember, the states no longer have representatives in Washington.
For sure, there were problems with the non-direct election of senators. Divided legislatures often had trouble compromising on an appointee – and some states took to the practice of holding referenda so the people had more of a voice. But eventually, somebody got appointed and represented the state.
In today’s direct-election world, we’re more likely to have a senator who’s a career politician rather than a private citizen. We’re more likely to have a wealthy senator, given the cost of running in states with big TV markets like Texas and California. Once in Washington, the direct-elected senator is subject to the charms of the lobbying cesspool and of the political culture. He or she has the power of the incumbency and can expect to be reelected many times if history is an indication. If the legislature isn’t happy with how the state is being treated, that’s too bad. The power is now invested in Washington and not in Austin.
Direct-election of senators is a tribute to the rise of progressivism and the era of Big Government. Rick Perry is the only candidate who’s even discussing the idea of restoring power to the states as our Framers intended.
Lynn Woolley is a Texas-based radio talk show host. His website is www.BeLogical.com