Gohmert calls for saving the Senate… from voters?

The 17th Amendment

The 17th Amendment

Today, unhappy over the passage of federal health care reform, Congressman Louie Gohmert (Tyler) called for a constitutional amendment returning the choice of U.S. Senators to state legislature. In a press release from Congressman Gohmert’s web site, he spells out his reasons:

Ever since the safeguard of State legislatures electing U.S. Senators was removed by the 17th Amendment in 1913, there has been no check or balance on the Federal power grab for the last 97 years.

Gohmert makes an interesting argument for bringing state-oriented representation into the U.S. Senate. According to this view the states are important political units that need more specific representation. To take their proper place in our system of federalism, the governments of the states need representation selected by the governments of the states.

The general “states rights” argument is common. However, Gohmert’s argument makes the unusual leap of suggesting that legislators are better equipped to choose those who will look after the interest of the states. To me, the most puzzling aspects of Gohmert’s claim is the assumption that senators chosen by state legislators would be any different. Anyone who has read the accounts of how Nineteenth century state legislators chose senators or members of the electoral college must have some doubts about Gohmert’s claim.

Gohmert seems to base his argument on the assumption that the rise of federal power coincides with the ratification of the Seventeenth Amendment made election of senators by voters mandatory (it’s worth noting that before this amendment most state were already using elections). Unlike Gohmert, I don’t  believe that America suffered greatly in the Twentieth century. Gohmert sees rising federal power, I tend to notice that the last century saw the rise of America as a global economic, political, and military leader. Along the way, we addressed critical failures on racial and gender equality. I’m always puzzled when people who claim to believe that America is the greatest country in the world so adamantly resent the politics that made it so. Our political system has its faults, but there’s not much arguing that something went right.

Gohmert’s appeal is a lost cause. The argument that voters are not wise enough to look after the interests of their states doesn’t make the best campaign slogan. And, given the reputation of the Texas legislature, telling Texas voters that they’re less qualified that their legislators isn’t a very flattering comparison.


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