No member of Congress should serve without having been elected by the people of the district or state they represent.
Unfortunately, four appointed senators are currently serving. And since Florida Sen. Mel Martinez has just resigned and Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison is talking about doing so, more appointed senators will soon join the ranks.
What all this means is that more laws will be proposed, more filibusters will be broken, more critical votes will be tipped in one direction or another by “senators” who never earned a single vote.
Because of a deliberate misreading of the vague 1913 amendment to the U.S. Constitution that replaced the old system of appointing senators with one that said they were all supposed to be directly elected.
Senator Russ Feingold, D-Wisconsin, wants to amend the Constitution to address the problem.
His proposal, which would require special elections to fill all Senate vacancies, is advancing in the Senate. Last week, the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution approved Feingold’s proposed amendment to end gubernatorial appointments to vacant Senate seats.
Said Feingold: “I applaud my colleagues on the subcommittee for passing the Senate Vacancies Amendment, which will end an anti-democratic process that denies voters the opportunity to determine who represents them in the U.S. Senate. The nation witnessed four gubernatorial appointments to Senate seats earlier this year, some mired in controversy, and we will soon see another one in Texas. This will leave more than 20 percent of Americans represented by a senator whom they did not elect.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., is not enthusiastic about the amendment. He recently defended the appointment of senators, saying, “In the state of Nevada the governor appoints. Even though we have a Republican governor now I think that’s the way it should be so I don’t support his legislation.”
Notably, Nevada also permits prostitution, so perhaps Reid can be excused for thinking that it is O.K. to let one man dictate who will be in what position.
But no one with a taste for democracy can possibly respect the majority leader’s position.
More serious senators, including the No. 2 Democrat in the chamber, Illinoisan Dick Durbin, and Arizona Republican John McCain, are co-sponsoring Feingold’s amendment.
No matter what Reid says, this initiative needs to move forward.
Feingold is right when he declares: “It is time to finish the job started by the great progressive Bob La Follette of Wisconsin to require the direct election of senators. No one can represent the American people in the House of Representatives without the approval of the voters. The same should be true for the Senate. I hope the full Senate Judiciary Committee will soon get the chance to consider this important constitutional amendment to entrust the people, not state governors, with the power to select U.S. senators.”