David Stevens has an idea: that pesky 17th Amendment to the constitution is a big problem, so let’s ditch it.
He has a bill to have major party Senate nominees chosen by their respective legislative caucuses, rather than at a party primary. He labels this as a way to go back to the “good old days” before that 17th Amendment ruined everything.
First off, before the 17th Amendment, legislators chose Senators, not party nominees (a notable exception being Arizona, which I’ll get to in a bit). He is selling this referendum as a way of going back to the days before 1913, but you’d have to go much further back to find a precedent for method of nomination. This scheme calls to mind the old “King Caucus” days before Andrew Jackson when presidential nominees were picked by congressmen.
Stevens thinks this would be a much better system because instead of spending millions on a nomination fight, they would just “have to come down and, basically, campaign us.” He forgets that there is a general election, and that can tend to get expensive too. For example, the 2006 Senate campaign, which involved neither candidate having a primary challenge, cost the two nominees in total over $30,000,000.
Also, given the behavior of the legislature over the last year or so, what evidence is there that there will be better nominees out of this process? Stevens, in comments to the Yuma Sun, says that this would give a candidate like J. D. Hayworth a better shot at being the Republican nominee. He thinks this is a selling point.
Like Jack Harper’s bill giving the lege more say over judges, this one seems an ill-timed bid for more power for legislators. Word to Stevens and company: you may want to get your act together and pass a budget before asking the voters for more responsibility.
Historical Note: Even though Arizona became a state shortly before the 17th Amendment was enacted, the legislature was compelled to follow the will of the voters when appointing a Senator, who made their choice in an advisory vote. In other words, Stevens’s “good old days” never actually existed here.