Lawmaker seeks to end gubernatorial appointment of U.S. senators

January 26, 2009

capitolWASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold intends to propose an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to end the practice of governors filling vacant Senate seats.

With the Illinois governor charged with having tried to sell President Barack Obama’s old Senate seat — and New York’s governor accused by critics of having held a circus-like review to fill the one formerly held by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Feingold says voters — not governors — should make the call in special elections. 

“The controversies surrounding some of the recent gubernatorial appointments to vacant Senate seats make it painfully clear that such appointments are an anachronism that must end,” Feingold said.

Feingold said he will introduce this week what would be just the 28th amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the framework for American democracy that has been in effect since 1789.

His proposed amendment would require that all senators, just like all members of the House of Representatives, be elected.

Initially, senators were elected by state legislatures. But the 17th amendment, adopted in 1913, made them elected instead by voters.

A third of the Senate is routinely elected ever two years. But in case of a death or a resignation, governors in most states are empowered to appoint a replacement.

Feingold, a Wisconsin Democrat, said that as chairman of the Senate Judiciary’s subcommittee on the Constitution, he plans to soon hold a hearing on his proposed amendment.

Untold hundreds of amendments to the Constitution have been proposed. But there’s a reason why just 27 have been approved. To become law, it has to be passed by two-thirds of the House and Senate, and then within a set time period, three-quarters of the states.

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Photo credit: Reuters/Mike Segar – A worker changes a flag at the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C., which houses the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, during the January 20 inauguration of President Barack Obama.


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The US Senate is the most dysfunctional, inefficient and unrepresentative body loaded up to the gills with senile old fuddy duddy SOBs in dippers and not even knowing about who they are let alone what they are supposed to do. Filling vacant seats by the State Governors is a Constitutional requirement and to make any changes, it will require to amend the US Constitution, which none of the SOBs has a gall to even attempt.

What is needed is a Constitutional Convention to change the whole make of this body, the powers of the President and others parts of the US Government. Starting with equal representation by state population. It is totally unfair for RI, ME, VA, NH, ND, SD, UT, ID, MT etc with all less then 2 million people each to be represented by two Senators as compared to CA, IL, FL, NY, IL etc that have populations ranging from 35 million to 15 million each.

On top of it these Senators operating this private club need retiring age of 65 or 70 and the usual 4 year terms then this six year BS. It would be even wise to make the House Of Representatives to extend member terms to 4 years to eliminate one too many elections and cost to the tax payers.

Posted by wine0339 | Report as abusive

wine0339 – the Senate is supposed to be dysfunctional. By diminishing the role of the state, which is what your (and Larry Sabato’s) plan would do, you are further empowering the lifelong politicians who inhabit Washington. If you think things are bad now, just wait until every government function eminates from DC. For that matter, they will be directing all “private” activities too.

Posted by Dan | Report as abusive

In Alaska, several years ago our US Senator Murkowski decided to leave the US Senate after over 20 years and ran for the governor of Alaska. He won easily. His first task? To personnaly select a replacement for his now vacant senate seat. His choice? His daughter! Needless to say, he didn’t get reelected and most Alaskan’s would agree that this Constitutional Ammendment is needed.

Posted by Paul Benbrook | Report as abusive

Term limits have been a FAILURE everywhere they’ve been enacted; changing representatives more frequently has not guaranteed us smarter presidents (the last being proof positive) in addition it takes a while to develope the necessary perspective and acumen to be an effective legislature – let’s try actually electing smart people who want to do a good job, instead of just who looks good on television, or tells us what we want to hear; you know, like in the old days…

Posted by paulserr | Report as abusive

Paulserr posted that they are elected because they look good on television? You have to be kidding…look at Pelosi, Reid, Frank, Franken….I guess looks are in the eye of the beholder. These people are elected because of Political Machines and they will always be beholding to someone.

Posted by Mike Davis | Report as abusive

[…] Governor Rod Blagoevich’s attempt to “sell” Barack Obama’s Senate seat that year, a brief reform movement arose but ultimately gained little […]

Posted by Lautenberg's Passing Highlights the Strangeness of Gubernatorial Appointments to the Senate : Progressive Policy Institute | Report as abusive