Governors of many southern states, including Mississippi’s Haley Barbour, South Carolina’s Mark Sanford, Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal and even our own Sonny Purdue, have been featured a lot in the news recently due to their refusal to take some or all of the funds allocated to them by the stimulus package. Many in the media are blasting these positions as merely a political move, but I do not think it is wise to put future burdens on the taxpayers when the federal stimulus money dries up and the states have to pay for the new programs themselves. However, I believe this situation is a sign of a bigger problem in Washington: the state governments have no representation.
Before 1913 (which wasn’t a good year, considering the 16th Amendment was ratified and the Federal Reserve Act was passed), senators were elected by state legislatures, not by the people. The founders designed the Constitution so that the House of Representatives represented the people of each state based on population, while the Senate represented each individual state government, hence the equal number. The founders, especially the Anti-Federalists, liked the idea of keeping the focus on the state and local governments, which was the case up until the passing of the 17th Amendment.
This amendment completely changed the framework of our government and political system, for the worse, like many of the amendments and legislation of the Progressive Era. Before feminists out there get all riled up, stating that the 19th Amendment was passed at this time and that I’m a sexist pig, I am not trying to say that women shouldn’t have the right to vote. The 16th and 17th Amendments are the ones I have the most problem with.
The main problem with popular election of senators is that state governments have lost their representation in Washington, which greatly reduces their power and influence in the United States government and completely throws their interest out the window. Senators do not have to vote in the interest of the state governments anymore, but, instead, can pander to their respective citizens, which usually results in more spending on pork-barrel projects.
Secondly, popular election gives more power to the influence of special interests. Special interest would have to invest most of their energy (and money) into lobbying to all 50 state governments instead of just 100 individuals in Washington if the state legislatures were responsible for electing Senators. As I said before, the electorate would have to focus on state and local government instead of just focusing on the national races, because the people you elect to the state legislature will be or choose the ones representing your state in the Senate.
Last but not least, if a senator fails to serve his duty to the state, then the legislature could chose to replace him, if necessary. For example, a dirt-bag like Ted Stephens (R-Alaska) would never be re-elected. The states would want to make sure their interests are first and foremost on the mind of the senator they elect, keeping the representative from voting in his own interest. Of course, the House of Representatives would also be a check on the power of the states over the people, keeping things in a better balance than they are today.
Some might say I want to take away their right to vote, and as much as I’d like to prevent some idiots from voting (with a basic literacy test or something), that is not the case. This is mainly about returning power to the states. Although, I would also like someone to show me where in the Constitution it says we have a right to vote in federal elections, but that’s neither here nor there. Studies have shown that people are most likely going to vote for the incumbent in races other than the presidential election, so why give the privilege to vote for senators to misinformed people?
Our Republic was designed with checks and balances, and it was the Senate’s responsibility to keep a check on the national government by retaining the interest of the state governments. Now the state governments are about as useless in Washington as the Constitution. The recent quarrel between Washington and the governors would probably not even occur if the state governments knew they had an actual say in the national decision-making. It’s definitely not issue #1 to most people, but the 17th Amendment should be re-examined, and in my opinion, repealed.
Comment: Yes it is about checks and balances. Our whole system of government is based upon this, and complete democracy has no check or balance.