Every state has two U.S. senators, chosen by voters, but the system didn’t always work this way. Before 1913, senators were elected by state legislatures, not the public, until the 17th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution shifted power into the hands of the American electorate.
What’s amazing is how many Republicans want to shift the power back the other way, taking control away from voters and giving it back to state lawmakers. Among them is Rep. Jeff Flake (R), a U.S. Senate candidate in Arizona this year.
Flake advocated additional deep cuts in taxes and spending and the wholesale repeal of federal regulations. He said he opposed any restrictions on guns, ammunition or magazines, despite a string of recent shootings. He also said he favored eliminating both the federal Department of Energy and the Department of Education. He even said he preferred having state legislatures appoint U.S. Senators instead of the voters, a system that changed in 1912 with the adoption of the 17th Amendment.
Flake’s office later confirmed that the congressman pushed for repeal, and “has not introduced or supported bills on this issue,” but nevertheless believes the power to elect senators should be taken away from American voters.
He’s not alone. Roll Call reports today that other Republican U.S. Senate candidates, including Michigan’s Pete Hoekstra, Indiana’s Richard Mourdock, and Missouri’s Todd Akin are all on board with shifting power from voters to state legislatures.
If this sounds vaguely familiar, there’s a reason – in 2010, all kinds of far-right Republican candidates endorsed repeal of the 17th Amendment, and some even won anyway. Marc Ambinder reported at the time that the position has “become a part of the Tea Party orthodoxy.”
What in the world are these people talking about? Apparently, the far-right believes that Congress will give states more power – and shrink federal power in the process – if the entire Senate is made up of officials beholden to state legislatures, not voters.
But the argument is not without irony – we have Tea Partiers who claim to want “the American people” to have more power over their government arguing that “the American people” shouldn’t even have the ability to elect their own senators.
Update: For more background on this, David Gans had a terrific item back in 2010 on the constitutional history. It’s worth your time (thanks to D.P. for the tip).