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Author Rating: 0 Topic: Feingold Bill Would Strip Governors of Senate Appointment Power (Read 567 times)
jwilkes

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Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin just might have come up with the best idea we’ve heard in at least a few years. The state’s junior Democrat put out a press release on Sunday that he plans to introduce a bill that would amend the US Constitution to require Senate vacancies to be filled by special elections, as opposed to the current practice of allowing the governor of each state to appoint a replacement.

Feingold’s bold announcement was clearly a response to the controversy over not just one, but all four of the selections for Senators leaving Congress for plum jobs in President Barack Obama’s administration drew fire.

The first was the highly-publicized selection of Roland Burris, whose own qualifications are clouded by the ethical minefield set up by the man who appointed him, Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich. Next came Colorado Governor Bill Ritter’s choice of Michael Bennet- the Denver superintendent of schools who has never before held or even sought public office- to fill the Senate seat of newly-confirmed Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. Then, of course, was the debacle over who would replace former Senator and now Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in New York. Governor David Paterson mulled the decision over, heavily considering political neophyte Caroline Kennedy before settling on Rep. Kirstin Gillibrand, a moderate upstate Democrat who has turned out to be a highly controversial choice. And finally- though this one has flown under the proverbial radar in comparison to the other three- Vice President Joe Biden’s Delaware Senate seat will go to longtime aide Ted Kauffman, with the implicit understanding that Kauffman will retire after two years so that Biden’s son, Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden, can seek the seat for himself without having to run against an incumbent.

In any case, all four choices have been lightening rods for criticism. Feingold’s plan would essentially strip the Governors of the power to hand-pick successors to the Senate, and instead mandate an immediate special election that would allow the voters to decide for themselves.

And why not? The 17th Amendment gave the power to direct elect US Senators directly to the American voters (they had previously been selected by state legislatures). If the spirit of the Amendment is to give the electorate the ultimate choice, why have this loophole, which has been used six times in the past two years alone? Feingold called the practice an “anachronism,” and he’s right.

Moreover, the direct election of members of the House is Constitutionally mandated. If a sitting Representative dies in office or leaves Congress in the middle of his or her term, a special election is held to find a replacement. The governor, other than to set a date for when the special election will be held, has no say in the matter. Why should the Senate- whose members are theoretically elected under the same principles of democratic government- be any different?

The truth is that there is no Constitutional rationale. Governors, as the CEOs of their respective states, have no stake in federal business, and shouldn’t be allowed the opportunity to choose who sets its policies.

But Feingold’s idea would require a constitutional amendment, the passage of which requires a two-thirds majority in both the House and the Senate, as well as ratification by three-fourths of the state legislatures. That’s a long path to walk, especially considering the political hot potato this could become. Still, Feingold’s plan has merit, and is one that is likely to receive a solid amount of debate, especially after the mess some governors have made of their appointments in recent weeks.

Guest-thepoliticalcat

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« Reply #1: Jan 26, 2009, 4:04 PM »
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Still, Feingold's instincts are good, and electing a replacement is more democratic. However, I can think of plenty of reasons a gubernatorial appointment makes sense.
Guest-beprogress

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« Reply #2: Jan 26, 2009, 5:55 PM »
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thepoliticalcat does make a point which is about the only decent defense of appointments...the cost, especially in our current economic climate, is more than many states can handle right now. Maybe they should get federal aid for these.
Guest-shupy

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« Reply #3: Jan 26, 2009, 6:41 PM »
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but the bigger issue is that the appointment thing is outdated,

Considering how long we have been a democracy, we should be able to do an election.
Guest-The Bard of Wilmette

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« Reply #4: Jan 27, 2009, 11:34 AM »
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Whenever I hear about some proposal to amend the Constitution, I am usually resistant to the idea. Most proposed amendments are a bad idea. I am still skeptical about the amendment proposed by Senator Feingold, although it looks better than it would have if proposed a year ago.

It has been my opinion that it should not be necessary to incur the additional cost of a special election to fill less than a two year period of an unexpired senate term. In any case, the states themselves ought to be able to settle the issue. I think that after Blago is kicked out of office (within a matter of days), Illinois will almost certainly change its own rules to have a special election when a U.S. Senate seat is vacated in the future.

Should this be mandated by amending the U.S. Constitution? I have my doubts, but the recent conduct of the Illinois and New York governors makes the case much more persuasive than I would have beleived possible a few months ago.
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