Several Tea Party candidates across the country have taken positions in support of repealing the 17th Amendment. That’s the one that allows for direct election of U.S. senators. Before the amendment was ratified in 1913, senators were appointed by state legislatures. The candidates who support this repeal have two main arguments. First, they argue that repeal would bolster our federal system by returning power to the states. Second, they contend that if senators were elected by state legislators, they would be more attentive to the needs of their respective states. The proponents of repeal often state that this is “what the Founding Fathers intended.”
I find flaws with the logic involved behind these arguments. First, when the Founders discussed federalism, the opposing positions were occupied by the states and the federal government. Power was to be divided between the two because individual states would often have different interests than those of the national government. So when the Tea Party argues that power should be returned to the states on the principle of federalism, one would assume that this power was taken from the states and given to the national government. It was not; the power was taken from the relative few (state legislators) and given to the many (the people). The Tea Party position seems to advocate taking power from the people and giving it to the (state) government. Second, on the argument of being attentive the needs of their respective states, senators are currently elected by all of the people of a state and they still don’t focus on local needs. So question is: would they do any better if they were elected by a smaller group of those people? I don’t think so.
Even if the 17th Amendment was repealed, this would not take the power to choose senators away from the people; it would just add another layer. After all, the people choose their state legislators. If voters would pay attention to their local issues and choose the best people from their communities to represent them in state government, then those state leaders should ideally pick U.S. senators that best represent the people of their states. This is the essence of representative government. Still, I think that it’s a tough sell. People are not often willing to give up the power that they have, especially when it is a part of one of their most basic rights (voting) and when they’d be giving that power to the government. It seems that this is a contradictory position for the Tea Party. What do you think? Join the Discourse!