Sunday, November 3, 2019

17th Amendment Repeal a Viable Alternative to Term Limits

Senator Mitch McConnell was asked. "What do you think about term limits?"

His answer. "You already have them!"


"You have them; every time that you go to the polls." The Senator said coyly.

The place was Eastern Kentucky University. It was 2012. Mitch McConnell was speaking on behalf of the EKU Future Business leaders. An audience member had asked what was on the tips of many tongues.

That the Senator failed to note the advantageous position generally held by incumbents was not surprising. Incumbents nearly always have more money. A challenger needs to have deep pockets, OR some serious patrons who will make up for the shortfall.

Democrats had reason to believe that 2014 might be their year. Their candidate, Alison Lundergan Grimes was a rising star in the Democratic Party. Funds were pouring in from California and the East, in support of her candidacy.

For a brief period, it had looked like Mitch might get a primary challenge. Then businessman, now Kentucky Governor, Matt Bevin was the Tea Party favorite. I recall getting a scathing note from one of their members, reminding me of mcConnell's alleged corruption.

I defended McConnell, stating that he might have negatives, but would have a better chance of defeating Grimes. Not that Mitch needed it! He reached into his war chest and soon, Bevin was an after thought!

In the general election, McConnell continued his generous use of resources to position Grimes as a "puppet for out of state special interests and "Bay area" liberalism. The election wasn't close.

When the Convention of States organizers came to Kentucky, they quickly realized that "terms limits" would be a non-starter. As one supporter phrased, "Mitch McConnell simply has too much power." Nobody here is interested in including term limits in the petition.


Fairly easy answer. How would Kentucky benefit from replacing the Senate Majority Leader, who happened to represent the Bluegrass state, with a freshman?

Arkansans faced that same quandary in the 1960's, with Wilbur Mills. He was anything but popular. People outside of Little Rock loathed him. But, he chaired the House Ways and Means Committee, controlling vast amounts of money. Did the state really want to replace him with a freshman?

I recall then Texas Governor, Rick Perry's rationale regarding term limits. "If Bureaucrats know that a politician is going to be term limited, they'll just wink at him and essentially stall until his term ends." In other words, term limits would not work UNLESS Bureaucrats were also term limited! Which, might not be a bad idea! But, it would be complicated.

A better solution might be to take Perry's suggestion that we abolish the 17th amendment. As in, allow the state Senates to select the state's federal Senators, which is the method the founders originally laid out.

At first glance, it sounds like an unpopular concept. No longer would U.S. Senators be elected in a direct primary. We would return to the way things used to be: The state Senates would make the call. Sounds less Democratic. Yet...

Benjamin Franklin used the analogy of "pouring hot tea into a saucer before drinking it."

America was founded as a Republic, lest we forget. The concept of allowing our state Senators to choose our federal Senators, goes hand in hand with retaining control at the state level. In other words, making it more difficult for out-of-state special interests to buy a Senate seat.

Three 2018 midterms come to mind: Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin. All three states had Republican controlled Senates. Would Deb Stabenow, Sherrod Brown and Tammy Baldwin have won reelection in those states; if the decision had been made by those individual state Senates? Probably not!

What about Mitch McConnell?

Kentucky's state Senate has been Republican controlled for a while. My guess is, McConnell would skate along, without opposition. No small state is going to relinquish power voluntarily! But, if he were challenged, it would not be about who had the most money to spend!

Thus, those supporting term limits may want to pivot to a new strategy: "Repeal the 17th amendment." If handled as the founders intended, the pressure would shift to their incumbent state Senators, insuring that government remained closer to the people, as was intended.

Even though the verdict might be the same, it would be a verdict that was determined from within the state. Not outside.