Two points before I go on. I will vote for Gerry Connelly in November and I do not favor the repeal of the 17th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.
Keith Fimian who is running against Gerry Connelly in November is the center of a stupid non-debate. On the Mark Plotkin show on WTOP the other day he answered yes to the question by Mark Plotkin that he favored the repeal of the 17th Amendment, although he was not sure the date of its ratification (1913) and the reasons it passed. As we use to say when I was a cadet at VMI—Ignorance is No Excuse. So there is no excuse for Mr. Fimian not knowing the date of and the history of the 17th Amendment. To be honest unless prompted by Plotkin I am not sure he would have known what the subject of the 17th Amendment was about—for those wondering the Direct Election of Senators. I realize that this is a favorite rant of the Tea Party, but before we crucify Mr. Fimian for daring to attack democracy let’s get some perspective.
First the attack that Mr. Fimian is against democracy. False. Our nation has democratic principals but we are not a democracy—the United States is a representative republic. For the best discussion of what our nation is see James Madison’s Federalists No. 10.
Second, was the founders never envisioned the Senate as a “democratic” institution. To paraphrase James Madison its purpose was to cool the passions of the people, or to paraphrase Washington, like a saucer is used to cool tea, the Senate purpose is to cool the passions of the people. It was modeled on the House of Lords with the election of Senators the responsibility of the State Legislatures. While not democratic, the election was the responsibility of the people’s representative in the State Legislatures.
Third, the 17th Amendment was part of the Progressive movement belief in good government. Along with the primary and experts in education and government, the progressives believed that a scientific and rational approach was the best way to ensure good government. Theirs was a reaction against the rampant corruption found in the Congress of the United States in the late 19th Century. Corruption that was so widespread the railroads, big banks, and industries owned Senators and Representatives. (Wow some things never change!) As Mark Twain is reported to have said, there is no native criminal class in the United States except for the Congress.
Fourth, it was believed by the Progressives that the direct election of Senators would result in more frequent turnover of Senators. If Virginia is a guide, since the passage of the 17th Amendment, Senators have found a stable job. With the exception of three Senators who were defeated for either re-nomination or election (Chuck Robb, George Allen, and A. Willis Robertson) all of Virginia Senator’s have died, retired, or resigned from office. No exactly a huge turnover by electoral defeat! (As a note prior to the enactment of the 17th Amendment, 7 Senators were not reelected!) So the claim that the direct election of Senators by the people results in more frequent turnover, at least in Virginia does not hold true. In fact the two longest serving Senators in the History of the Senate have served since the enactment of the 17th Amendment—Strom Thurmond and Robert Byrd. In both cases they should have retired sooner than later—but they managed to win reelection regardless. There is an argument that State Legislatures would not be quite so sentimental—who knows.
Fifth, even if he want to repeal the 17th Amendment it ain’t happening overnight. In fact I would be willing to bet, even if the Democrats lose control of the House in November, a proposed Constitutional Amendment would never pass the House of Representatives and I can guarantee it would never pass the Senate in order to be sent to the States for ratification. Even if it was sent to the States, I seriously doubt it would be ratified. This is not something that is likely to happen.
Keith Fimian is not guilty of being anti-democratic, rather he believes that the way the founders envisioned the Senate is the right way. I happen to disagree that the direct election of Senators is a good thing, however the benefits it was to bring to politics, according to the Progressives, has not occurred. The Senate rather than having frequent turnover is for the most part a lifetime job. It is a millionaires club. Rather than making the country more democratic—it can be argued that its rules and traditions slow down the pace of needed legislation. It can also be argued it continues to act as a filter for the passions of the people, both thwarting and tempering those passions.
It is stupid non-issues like this that sour the people against our representatives. As I said I am voting for Gerry Connelly in November as his views are more in line with mine. I have strong views regarding the Tea Party and what it wants to do to this nation, but let’s deal with substantive issues not red herrings. While some may want to repeal the 17th Amendment it ain’t likely to happen.