Q. Why should we repeal the 17th Amendment and forfeit our right to vote for U.S. senators?
A . How many times have you had your U.S. Senator approach you and discuss impending legislation with you? Even though you voted for them, they probably did not contact you once. But how many times do you suppose they contacted Enron about impending legislation. Enron and other corporations financed their campaigns, to the tune of millions of dollars, to get you to vote these senators into office. You can safely bet that your U.S. Senators discuss impending legislation with these corporations on a routine basis.
How often do U.S. Senators discuss federal affairs with your state legislator? I am still looking for a state legislator who has been contacted by their U.S. Senator regarding federal affairs.
Prior to the enactment of the 17th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution the U.S. Senators discussed federal affairs with their state legislators on a regular basis. At THAT time U.S. Senators did not have to raise millions of dollars to run for office. They were not beholden to the large corporations.
There is no way our U.S. Senators are going to personally discuss federal affairs with, and handle the input from, 900,000 people. The only choice we have before us is to have them discuss our federal affairs with the State Legislatures as opposed to the large corporations. As originally included in the U.S. Constitution, the people of the states will continue to enjoy the right to vote for their U.S. Representatives.
I am including the final version of my presentation which I gave today before the Montana Senate Judiciary Committee.
SENATE JOINT RESOLUTION 10 – REPEAL THE 17TH AMENDMENT
WHAT IS THE 17TH AMENDMENT?
Prior to the adoption of the 17th Amendment to the United States
Constitution, the United States Senators were elected by the State
Legislatures. According to the U.S. Constitution, Article 1, Section 3, Clause 1:
The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, chosen by the Legislature thereof, for six Years; and each Senator shall have one Vote.
At the time the Constitution was written, the U.S. Representatives were to represent the people and were to be elected by popular vote. The U.S. Senators were to represent the States and were to be elected by the State Legislatures.
The 17th Amendment changed the United States Constitution and took away the States representation in our United States government. It states:
The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, elected by the people thereof, for six years; and each Senator shall have one vote. The electors in each State shall have the qualifications required for electors of the most numerous branch of the State legislatures.When vacancies happen in the representation of any State in the Senate, the executive authority of such State shall issue writs of election to fill such vacancies: Provided, That the legislature of any State may empower the executive thereof to make temporary appointments until the people fill the vacancies by election as the legislature may direct.
This amendment shall not be construed as to affect the election or term of any Senator chosen before it becomes valid as part of the Constitution.
Since Representatives in the House are elected by the general population of a state, they represent the individual citizens of the state. People have different anxieties and desires as individuals than they do collectively as a state. In fact, most individual citizens are not even aware of what the state must do to protect its people and their rights.
WHY SHOULD WE REPEAL THE 17TH AMENDMENT?
There are 2 main reasons to repeal the 17th Amendment. These reasons are: Campaign Finance Reform and to protect States’ Rights.
CAMPAIGN FINANCE REFORM:
According to Molly Ivins, a columnist for the Fort Worth Star Telegram:
The sad state of the union is that money talks and public policy is sold to the highest bidder. Less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the U.S. population gave 83 percent of all campaign contributions in the 2002 elections. Those who give money in political contributions get back billions in tax breaks, subsidies and the right to exploit public land at ridiculously low prices. This system in turn costs ordinary Americans billions of dollars, not to mention the costs to health, safety and the environment, and the cost of not having enough money for good schools. For example, the top corporations that paid zero taxes from 1996 to 1998 included AT&T, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Chase Manhattan, Enron, Exxon Mobil, General Electric, Microsoft, Pfizer and Phillip Morris. They gave $150.1 million to campaigns from 1991 to 2001. Public Campaign reports they got $55 billion in tax breaks from 96 to 98 alone, perennial legislation to gut the alternative minimum tax and billions in rebates to select corporations.
Right here in Montana, in the race for Senate between incumbent Max Baucus and challenger Mike Taylor, millions of dollars were spent. Max Baucus raised and spent $6.7 million and Mike Taylor raised and spent 1.8 million. Much of this money came from out of state. Some of the contributions came from: American International Group, Microsoft Corporation, General Electric, Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, JP Morgan, Chase & Co., Merck & Company, AOL Time Warner, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, National Pro-Life Alliance, National Rifle Association and Retamco Oil and Gas.
With the original Constitutional provisions before the 17th Amendment, the U.S. Senate was to be a check on Congress to prevent them from dipping into the National treasury to buy votes. But since the passage of the 17th Amendment, rather than being appointed by the State Legislatures, they too must run expensive election campaigns and, instead of checking the problem, they are now part of the problem.
PROTECTING STATES’ RIGHTS
James Madison thought that the States should be active participants in the Federal Government. He said:
Whenever power may be necessary for the national government, a certain portion must be necessarily left with the states, it is impossible for one power to pervade the extreme parts of the United States so as to carry equal justice to them. The state legislatures also ought to have some means of defending themselves against the encroachments of the national government. In every other department we have studiously endeavored to provide for its self-defense. Shall we leave the states alone un-provided with the means for this purpose? And what better means can be provided than by giving them some share in, or rather make them a constituent part of, the national government?
Since the enactment of the 17th Amendment, the states have been reduced from an equal l partner with the Federal Government to a common lobbyist, which has resulted with the loss of State Sovereignty, State Rights and a host of Federal mandates some funded and some unfunded. These mandated include the No Child Left Behind Act with its system of compulsory tests.
The other day I heard Eric Feaver, the lobbyist for MEA/MFT, state that he couldn’t understand how any U.S. Senator representing Montana could vote to eviscerate the Montana Constitution. He was talking about the act of our U.S. Senators passing the No Child Left Behind Act. This act might sit well with that portion of the public who are not involved in > politics. But if we, as members of the Montana Legislature, had any say in the matter, we would have insisted it did not do harm to the Montana Constitution or to our state government.
It was recently brought to my attention that Governor Martz is proposing hiring a lobbyist in Washington D.C. in order to protect our state’s interests. Prior to the adoption of the 17th Amendment this would have been unnecessary.
If the responsibility of electing our U.S. Senators was returned to the State Legislatures, the cost of campaigns would be much lower. It obviously costs less to influence 150 Montana Legislators than it costs to influence the voters in a state of over 900,000 people. Rather than paying back the Legislatures in tax breaks, subsidies and lands to be exploited, the Federal Government would consider the will of the various state governments when making its laws. We would not have mandatory student testing being imposed upon us by the federal government.
WHY WON’T WE HAVE THE SAME PROBLEMS THAT BROUGHT US THE 17TH AMENDMENT?
There were 2 main reasons the 17th Amendment was adopted in 1913.
One was the deadlock of State Legislatures when electing U.S. Senators. According to the Montana Historical Society Legislative Minute for January 15:
On this day in Montana legislative history January 15, 1890 the state’s First Legislative Assembly already had been deadlocked for 54 days and there was no hope in sight of breaking the stalemate. In the House, 25 Republicans faced 25 Democrats. Here, however, a crucial 5 seats were disputed because of apparent voting irregularities in Silver Bow County’s Precinct 34, at Homestake Tunnel above Butte. Both parties claimed the 5 swing seats and, thus, control of the House. Control was especially important because, prior to 1912, Montana legislators elected the state’s U.S. Senators. So, to protect their 5 disputed seats, each party met in separate chambers for the duration of the 90 day session. In effect, two houses of representatives existed each one calling the other the rump house.
Regarding the most crucial question, Republican legislators elected two of their own as U.S. Senators Wilber Fisk Sanders and Thomas C. Power.And Democrats sent two of their own William A. Clark and Martin Maginnis to Washington. Since Republicans controlled Congress, Sanders and Power became Montana’s first U.S. Senators.
The other was the corruption of the State Legislators. In Montana W.A. Clark bribed our state legislators in order to become a U.S. Senator.
In January 1889 it was reported that W.A. Clark;s son promised: We will send the old man to the Senate or the poorhouse. On January 10, 1889 a joint legislative committee to investigate reports of bribery presented sworn testimony to the legislature. The key testimony was that of State Senator Fred Whiteside of Flathead County. Whiteside testified that Clark’s henchmen, led by attorney John B. Wellcome, had given him thirty thousand dollars to purchase his vote and the votes of several other legislators. He said that his exposure of Clark’s bribe had brought threats to his life, but if this be the last act of my life, it is well worth the price to the people of this state.
WHAT IS OUR PROTECTION TODAY?
Our protection from corrupt State Legislatures are: Term limits; Campaign disclosure statements; Open Caucuses; and We have highly visible public information.
Our protection from dead-locked State Legislatures is the provision that if a State Legislature does not fill a vacancy or elect a U.S. Senator within 30 days, the Governor shall appoint the U.S. Senator.
I recommend that committee members give extra careful consideration to this proposal. This vote has historic and fundamental ramifications that go back to our founding fathers. We should not be impeded from following the patriotism and wisdom of our Constitution’s framers.
Regarding opponents of the measure as Shakespeare said, they are thinking to precisely on the event and are 1 part wise, but 3 parts fearful.
Reprinted with permission from Montana State Senator Jerry O’Neil