I love being invited to comment on things. In this case, I have been pointed towards an article from September of 2002 by John W. Dean on the 17th Amendment to the Constitution and whether it should be repealed. As a brief reminder, the 17th Amendment changed the way that senators were selected. Originally senators were chosen by state legislators while representatives in the house were selected by direct election. That structure, and the election of the president by the electoral college are the two fundamental differences between our government and a pure democracy.
Dean suggests that the 17th Amendment, along with the 16th Amendment (legalized income taxes) were the driving forces behind the expansion of the federal government in the last century. He also points to Federalist No. 10 which suggests that the purpose of the Senate is different from the purpose of the House of Representatives. The Senate was not expected to represent the citizens of their state, but rather the government of their state. In fact, what James Madison describes for the Senate sounds more like what we might have if the Republican Governors Association and the Democratic Governors Association were to come together in a governing body.
The article cites law professor Todd Zywicki from George Mason University in saying that “the true backers of the 17th amendment were special interests” who “hoped direct elections would increase their control, since [direct elections] would let [the special interests] appeal directly to the electorate, as well as provide their essential political fuel – money.” Although that assessment sounds right, I cannot prove it. I can say that the change has voided any significant difference between Senators and Representatives. Now the difference is that Senators serve longer terms and do not represent a set number of constituents.
Repeal of the amendment would restore both federalism and bicameralism. It would also have a dramatic and positive effect on campaign spending. Senate races are currently among the most expensive. But if state legislatures were the focus of campaigns, more candidates might get more access with less money — decidedly a good thing.
Absent a change of heart in the American populace and a better understanding of the beneficial role played by limitations on direct democracy, it is difficult to imagine a movement to repeal the 17th amendment.
I agree on both counts. I believe that the founders did not structure our government as they did based on whims. They knew what they were doing and most of us do not understand what they were doing, much less why they were doing it. They allowed for amendments because they knew it would be necessary to make changes at times – I think the founders would have applauded the 14th Amendment. But I also think that it is not wise for us to use the amendment process to fundamentally change the form of government that they set up. Sadly, most citizens are not sufficiently informed to understand the differences caused by this amendment.