As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Time To Get Special

Russ Feingold is taking the lead on calling for a Constitutional amendment mandating special elections for vacant Senate seats.

"The controversies surrounding some of the recent gubernatorial appointments to vacant Senate seats make it painfully clear that such appointments are an anachronism that must end. In 1913, the Seventeenth Amendment to the Constitution gave the citizens of this country the power to finally elect their senators. They should have the same power in the case of unexpected mid term vacancies, so that the Senate is as responsive as possible to the will of the people. I plan to introduce a constitutional amendment this week to require special elections when a Senate seat is vacant, as the Constitution mandates for the House, and as my own state of Wisconsin already requires by statute. As the Chairman of the Constitution Subcommittee, I will hold a hearing on this important topic soon."

This is long overdue, and not just because of the Rod Blagojevich/Roland Burris fiasco, though that is an excellent example. The recent selection of Kirsten Gillibrand was not made by Gov. Paterson out of a desire to reflect the needs of his citizens, but for nakedly and admittedly political interests. He wanted to endear himself to women and to voters upstate. So he artifically narrowed his options. And then there's the issue of seat-warming, as we see in Delaware:

Seat-warming in Delaware: The governor of the First State chose Edward E. "Ted" Kaufman to fill the vacancy created by the election of Joseph R. Biden Jr. as vice president. Mr. Kaufman worked for Mr. Biden for 21 years, 19 as chief of staff. When he was selected, there were whispers that Mr. Kaufman would step aside in 2010 to allow Mr. Biden's son, who is Delaware's attorney general and serving in Iraq as a member of the Delaware Army National Guard, to run for the seat. Those whispers became audible talk when Mr. Kaufman announced that he would not seek a full term. While this is not the most egregious example of treating a Senate seat like a family heirloom, it comes close.

It's just undemocratic and wrong. Unfortunately, I'm not sure a Constitutional amendment is going to work. It may get the required 2/3 vote in the Congress, but then it must be ratified by 3/4 of the states. And in that process, governors must submit the amendment to their legislatures for ratification. Which means that a Governor would have to give the legislature the power to cut them out of the appointment process. Purely on grounds of self-interest, I don't see that happening, though it's an open question whether Governors can actually block the process. If they can't, they still wield power among state legislatures, who may not want to open up Senate seats to the rabble.

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