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Because too much democracy...well.
The 17th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States was adopted over a century ago, declared ratified by secretary of State William Jennings Bryan on May 31, 1913. It would seem at first glance to be among the amendments that would not generate much controversy in modern political discourse: It provides for the direct election of U.S. senators by a vote of the people, and outlines procedures for filling whatever vacancies arise. Previous to the ratification of the 17th Amendment, senators were often chosen by the state legislatures, which often led to the type of corruption and influence-peddling that former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich could only dream of.

This advance of pure democracy would seem like an unqualified good—unless you happen to be a member of the extreme right tea party fringe, or the American Legislative Exchange Council, both of which have their own competing reasons for undermining the it and putting power back in the hands of the elites.

More on ALEC and the 17th Amendment below the fold.

Tea party groups have been using the issue of repealing the 17th Amendment as a litmus test to evaluate candidates for public office since 2010. The theory goes that the 17th Amendment leads to expansion of federal powers because a state's people are more likely to want to depend on federal programs than a state legislature would be willing to do. As notorious Bush administration lawyer wrote in the National Review:

There’s a lot of truth to the argument that the enactment of the 17th Amendment undermined federalism. State legislatures have a greater institutional incentive to protect federalism than do the people of a state. The people of a state may want to expand federal program spending in order to get their share of tax revenues, even at the expense of greater national power over issues reserved to the states. Although they are also elected by the people, state legislators have more of an incentive to protect the original distribution of powers between the national and state governments.
In other words, the argument goes that people have no problem being on the federal dole, but state legislators will want to preserve their own power; hence, senators chosen by legislatures will be more likely to fight for a more limited federal government. From the perspective of the Republican Party, of course, it's a self-serving argument as well: There are numerous states with Republican-controlled legislatures which consistently elect Senators from the Democratic Party, and tea party groups would likely like nothing better than to allow those legislatures to pick senators instead, even at the expense of a small thing like democracy. Either way, this crazy, anti-democratic idea has gotten so much traction that two of the leading candidates to become the next attorney general of Texas have endorsed it.

The conservative business group ALEC, meanwhile, also wants to undermine the 17th Amendment through what it calls the "Equal State's Enfranchisement Act:"

The American Legislative Exchange Council is responsible for writing and advocating for conservative laws, including the repeal of renewable energy standards, voter identification efforts, and the infamous “Stand Your Ground” law that allowed George Zimmerman to walk free on the night he killed Trayvon Martin. Now, the group is considering pushing for legislation to change how U.S. Senators get elected.

In an agenda for a December meeting posted on ALEC’s website, one of the items up for review is language for a bill, called the Equal State’s Enfranchisement Act, that would allow state legislatures to add a candidate’s name to the ballot for a U.S. senate seat, along with the names of those nominated by voters.

This proposal would not contravene the 17th Amendment because it merely gives the legislature the right to nominate a candidate, even if the final election is decided by a state's voters. But while it may look at first glance like ALEC is joining forces with tea party groups to give more power to state legislatures when it comes to choosing senators. There has been a civil war brewing between the business-friendly old guard of the Republican Party, exemplified in no small part by ALEC, and the far more iconoclastic tea party enthusiasts. The battle was joined in earnest this November in the aftermath of the government shutdown, when the two factions went head to head in a special election in Alabama, and fought against each other to spin the gubernatorial election results in Virginia and New Jersey.

With specific reference to the Senate, ALEC is likely well aware that the interests of traditional business-oriented Republicans and those in the tea party faction are not necessarily aligned, especially with regard to the Senate. As Michael Gerson wrote:

But the interests of Freedonia are substantially different from those of the Republican Party. Tea party candidates — recall Sharron Angle, Christine O’Donnell, Richard Mourdock and Todd Akin — often lose winnable races. Tea party primary challenges, and the fear of them, encourage a harsher ideological tone among sitting Republican legislators, undermining their general-election appeal to independents, minorities and young people. And maximal tea party legislative strategies, as we’ve just seen, can be ruinous. Yet within an ideological bubble, success is defined differently — in purity, combativeness and the acclaim of the faithful.
It's a fascinating dynamic: The tea party wants to overturn the 14th Amendment in order to use the state legislatures as a bulwark against the people as a whole by preventing them from voting on anything. Meanwhile, the Republican business establishment wants to weaken the purpose of the amendment by way of using those same state legislatures as a bulwark against the extremism of Republican primary voters, who have thrown away five potential Senate seats that the plutocrats really wish they had right now.

These groups certainly don't trust each other, this much is obvious. But they trust the voting public even less. The difference between the two groups? Political intelligence. The tea party groups have made a litmus test of something they will never achieve, while ALEC is smartly chipping away at the margins of democracy. And that makes them far more dangerous.

Originally posted to Daily Kos on Sun Nov 24, 2013 at 06:45 PM PST.

Also republished by American Legislative Transparency Project.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Considering the gerrymandering (45+ / 0-)

    gymnastics that led to Republican control of many state legislatures, it is only natural that this would be the next step in ALEC's attempts to wrest away from us what little control we mere citizens have in choosing those who would represent us. I can think of nothing charitable to describe these people and their tactics. Assholes, comes to mind.

  •  'baggers as dupes of plutocrats (8+ / 0-)

    the ultimate Zombie Hamilton-Reagan

    It's a fascinating dynamic: The tea party wants to overturn the 14th Amendment in order to use the state legislatures as a bulwark against the people as a whole by preventing them from voting on anything. Meanwhile, the Republican business establishment wants to weaken the purpose of the amendment by way of using those same state legislatures as a bulwark against the extremism of Republican primary voters, who have thrown away five potential Senate seats that the plutocrats really wish they had right now.
    These groups certainly don't trust each other, this much is obvious. But they trust the voting public even less. The difference between the two groups? Political intelligence. The tea party groups have made a litmus test of something they will never achieve, while ALEC is smartly chipping away at the margins of democracy. And that makes them far more dangerous.

    Warning - some snark may be above‽ (-9.50; -7.03)‽ eState4Column5©2013 "I’m not the strapping young Muslim socialist that I used to be" - Barack Obama 04/27/2013

    by annieli on Sun Nov 24, 2013 at 06:53:55 PM PST

  •  There's a decent argument to be made against A17 (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Sparhawk, SpamNunn, MPociask

    I've never really been convinced of the value of the 17th Amendment. The way the Senate was originally set up made sense -- you give each state two Senators, and let each of them decide how to pick their Senators.  There was nothing stopping any state from letting its citizens elect its Senators.

    Certainly in practice it was rife with cronyism and corruption.  But the basic idea is sound, and in line with the purpose of the Senate and the basic idea of Federalism. On those grounds, the Tea Party isn't that far out of line.

    Of course, if their real deal is they think they can get better election results from this change, then it's best to oppose it.

    But I'm not clear that "because Democracy" is particularly sound reasoning on this matter.  Representative legislatures such as we have are a step removed from direct democracy anyway, so the pre-17th-Amendment Senate was just a second step removed.  It's merely a difference in degree.

    Democracy, in the abstract, is a laudable goal, but direct democracy doesn't always work well for all things.  It's at least conceivable that it makes sense for one house of the legislature to not be directly elected.

  •  I was unable to locate the "Equal States (11+ / 0-)

    Enfranchisement Act" on ALEC's website, but here is a list of the ones they don't mind making public.  If you peruse the list, and download a few that seem familiar to something going on in your state legislature, you will see that ALEC has its finger in nearly every pot.  We have many legislatures who are Dominated by ALEC, and we citizens should look into it because our media, beholden to ALEC private sector advertising dollars, won't go after them.

    Take a look for yourself:

    Republicans are like alligators. All mouth and no ears.

    by Ohiodem1 on Sun Nov 24, 2013 at 07:03:34 PM PST

  •  So, instead of one Tea Party nut... (5+ / 0-)

    ...running as a Republican for the general election, you'd have one Tea Party nut plus one Republican nominated by the state legislature.

    Uh huh. Hard to see how that could go wrong for the Republicans. Not like there'd be a spoiler effect or a divided base or anything.

    If they think this will help them, I think perhaps they haven't thought it through enough.

  •  The tea party wants to overturn the 14th Amendment (8+ / 0-)

    I think you mean 17th Amendment here. Although some in the Tea Party don't like the 14th, either, because it grants citizenship to all U.S.-born persons.

    •  Yes, I Hope Dante sees your comment & corrects (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      nice marmot, OleHippieChick

          I scratched my head on this one a bit, because I wasn't sure if it was a mistake or not.  

           There IS a sentiment against the 14th Amendment in the Tea Party, and the motivations behind it are pretty much the same as the motivations behind repealing the 17th, which is to limit the voting powers of the people.  

           So Dante might have intended to say that the Tea Party hoi polloi are focused on the 14th Amendment to prevent the PEOPLE from voting, while the business interests behind ALEC are ironically focused on the 17th in order to prevent the TEA PARTY from voting in Republican primaries.  

           But the shift in subject to the 14th Amendment, when the entire article preceding and subsequent to that point is focused on the 17th Amendment, is just to jarring, so I think that Dante must have meant the 17th Amendment.  

           Or perhaps, because the 17th Amendment is kind of obscure, and the 14th Amendment is a more common topic of discussion, Dante actually did type "17th Amendment", and it was auto-corrected to "14th Amendment".  Sort of like the way the auto-correct software on right-wing sites like WND and Breitbart will replace EVERY article and amendment of the Constitution with "the 2nd Amendment"....  

  •  i think they will regret it (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    When the country become less conservatives and more states are run by democratic bodies.  if this reform is made, it will be a melancholy day for American life. I am sure the conservatives will complain that it diminishes minority rights, which are always at threat in a democracy, where majorities rule.  If such a proposal is effected in the way that senators are chused, it will be a sad day for what used to be a great deliberative body.*

    *If it is good enough for Rand Paul, it should be good enough for anyone.

  •  ALEC is under the direction of the big money (8+ / 0-)

    Like the Koch brothers, so I am afraid, the teahadists are not so different from their aims as you would like to think. Clearly, the Kochs, and friends are trying for plutocratic feudalism, with themselves as kings.To get there creating gridlock and social chaos is at least one of their strategies. Denying large numbers of people a living wage, medical care, and cutting away at  any social props, is clearly a strategy to collapse democracy, leaving their wealth the only power.

    May you live in interesting times--Chinese curse

    by oldcrow on Sun Nov 24, 2013 at 07:18:16 PM PST

  •  The 17th Amendment was the one that came about (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Stude Dude, realalaskan, Just Bob, Pluto

    because nearly 2/3 of the states passed Article V convention calls to draft the amendment language. When that was about to happen, the Senate finally decided to get in front of the parade and put the amendment up for ratification.

    Government and laws are the agreement we all make to secure everyone's freedom.

    by Simplify on Sun Nov 24, 2013 at 07:22:29 PM PST

  •  We should change the name of Congress, (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    happymisanthropy, Bisbonian

    From the house and senate, to the house of the commons, and lords,why.

  •  I have one question for ALEC (9+ / 0-)

    Okay, I have many, like, "Why are you a pile of treasonous fucktards who despise Americans?", but I digress.

    I would like them to tell us what 38 states, and mean ALL 38 states, do they envision passing such an asshole amendment?

    I know lunatic places like Kansas, Nebraska, South Carolina would (sorry to those good folks stuck in those places)...but seriously, do they really think there are 38 states?

    ======================================================== Those who can, teach. Those who can't teach, make rules about teaching.

    by oxfdblue on Sun Nov 24, 2013 at 07:25:04 PM PST

  •  it might be worth remembering (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Either way, this crazy, anti-democratic idea has gotten so much traction that two of the leading candidates to become the next attorney general of Texas have endorsed it.
    that this idea was so crazy and undemocratic that guys like Madison and Franklin and Hamilton and Washington went for it. It might be worth checking out why they thought it was the way to go. iirc, they weren't the biggest fans of democracy.
  •  They hate democracy (4+ / 0-)

    Their vision would produce something like the mock "democracy" that existed in the Soviet Union and elsewhere in the Soviet Block.  They had elections and legislative power and even dissent (however short lived) but it was a sham.

    If Alec gets their way we'll be the laughing stock of democracies around the world.  In The Economist Democracy Index (however pro US they area) we are moving down.

    Daily Kos an oasis of truth. Truth that leads to action.

    by Shockwave on Sun Nov 24, 2013 at 07:34:46 PM PST

  •  Maybe I'm just nuts but... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    happymisanthropy, Sue B

    This sounds like a good thing for the Dems. I mean the only states pushing ALEC bills are controlled by the GOP. In those states the state government could add a candidate to the ballot if the "wrong" person wins the primary.

    Now they aren't going to add a Dem, they are going to add a partyline GOP member to balance the crazy that is the Tea party candidate (in theory) or vice versa if the Tea Party controls the government.

    That will simply split the GOP vote and the dem would reap the rewards.

    Am I missing something here?

    Voting straight party D 'til there's no GOP...
    Oh and the name is Jim, not Tim, the user name is a typo

    by jusjtim35 on Sun Nov 24, 2013 at 07:41:36 PM PST

  •  In the end, this is a States Rights ploy (7+ / 0-)

    ...and a continuation of the slave-owners-rights basis upon which the US Constitution was created.

    The Senate is already over-representated by bizarre and paranoid -- easily propagandized, low population, low information, isolationist states that are easily exploited by corporations, particularly in matters of privately seized natural resources. This just takes it a step further.

    Take for instance this bit of US news, which is only discussed outside the nation -- which could destroy the possibility of granting to Americans such human rights as health care:

    Obamacare faces new threat at state level from corporate interest group Alec

    Republican legislators and rightwing lobbying group draft proposal for state assembles aimed at killing healthcare act
    Share 826

    Barack Obama is facing a fresh offensive against his troubled healthcare reforms as Republican legislators backed by corporate sponsors prepare an attempt to effectively destroy the Affordable Care Act at state level.

    The move is the latest in a sustained effort by conservative states, mainly in the south and midwest, to resist key elements of the changes that are designed to extend healthcare to millions of uninsured Americans.

    The idea for the new attack is the brainchild of the American Legislative Exchange Council (Alec), a group that acts as a dating agency for Republican state legislators and big corporations, bringing them together to frame rightwing legislative agendas in the form of “model bills”.

    A new Alec proposal, approved by its annual meeting in Chicago in August and published as a model bill for adoption by state assemblies across the nation, would scupper the federal health insurance exchanges set up under Obamacare. The Health Care Freedom Act, as Alec calls its model bill, threatens to strip health insurers of their licenses to do new business on the federal exchanges should they accept any subsidies under the system.

    Alec justifies the measure as a way to protect local employers from the “employer mandate” – the provision in Obama's act that penalises employers with more than 50 workers who do not offer any or sufficient healthcare cover for their employees. However, health insurance experts say that were the model bill to be taken up widely by Republican-held states, it would seriously disrupt the federal exchanges, and in turn put the whole health reforms in peril.

    Legislation with almost identical language is already being debated in the state assemblies of Missouri and Ohio.


    Ethan Rome, executive director of a coalition that supports Obama’s reforms called Health Care for America Now, said that the Alec proposal was such a frontal assault on the federal exchanges that it represented “a form of state-based repeal of the ACA. This would make it virtually impossible for federal exchanges to function because insurers would no longer participate – and that would have the effect of bringing down the federal exchanges one state at a time.”
  •  Re (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    realalaskan, sfbob
    This advance of pure democracy would seem like an unqualified good—
    In a nation filled with creationists and anti-vaxers, it isn't clear this is true.

    (-5.50,-6.67): Left Libertarian
    Leadership doesn't mean taking a straw poll and then just throwing up your hands. -Jyrinx

    by Sparhawk on Sun Nov 24, 2013 at 07:46:35 PM PST

  •  Incrementally More Control (7+ / 0-)

    ALEC's position on the 17th Amendment is part and parcel of their other positions. State legislatures are notorious for being dominated by small town, small minded men (women need not apply). And they are easily manipulated by cynics like the Kochs. Just look at how Scott Walker responded to the phone caller pretending to be a Koch brother, and Walker is more sophisticated than the usual state legislator.

    Then consider that with two senators allotted to each state, senatorial power slants heavily toward the small states, so that 25 states representing less than 30% of the population can control the Senate (before Reid called for the "nuclear option" it was only slightly more than 20%). If ALEC and it's minions successfully repealed the 17th Amendment, voters' influence on the Senate would diminish substantially and the power of ALEC and its backers would increase. If we think the Senate is in the hip pocket of the 1% now, imagine how much deeper that pocket becomes if ALEC were to succeed.

    On the positive side, amending the Constitution requires the approval of two thirds of both the Senate and the House and  three quarters of the state legislatures. Given current and foreseeable politics, approval of such a change would be nigh impossible .  

  •  If it's from ALEC, it's against the people (8+ / 0-)

    Doesn't matter how they dress it up, their objective is to take as much power from the electorate as possible, and arrogate it to themselves, Wise Men who will rule over us. For our own good, of course.

  •  I wonder if ALEC has gamed this out though (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    happymisanthropy, RANDREWF

    Why would a state legislature majority actually use this power to undermine the power of their party's chosen candidate? Most Senate races are plurality rules. So let's say the state ledge in Texas backs a candidate that's from the GOP to go against the one chosen in the party primary. Now you have two GOP candidates  going against one Dem. Imagine if after the primary, David Dewhurst had been placed on the ballot by the legislature, joining Ted Cruz. From where I sit, that looks like a great way to end up with Paul Sadler in the Senate from the Democratic party after a 41-37-22 split.  Now that's not true in places like Georgia, which has a majority run-off system, or in  Louisiana with a jungle primary during the general election. But even there, I don't see the point of splitting your party's vote unnecessarily.  

  •  The selection of legislators by the State (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Legislatures was intended to insure that the Senators would be more beholden to their individual States than to any national constituency.   That might not be a bad thing, as my Senators haven't always put New Jersey first.

    Unwitting privileged genetic lottery winner and economic engine

    by SpamNunn on Sun Nov 24, 2013 at 08:07:17 PM PST

    •  It depends on whether you want to be (3+ / 0-)

      ...a loose confederation of States.

      Or, a nation.

      •  I like local rule, wherever possible. (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        MPociask, scott5js

        I would prefer that people who have the same interests as me because we share a community do more of the governing that affects me directly.

        Unwitting privileged genetic lottery winner and economic engine

        by SpamNunn on Mon Nov 25, 2013 at 06:11:36 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  Or a federation? (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        There are lots of options, after all.  

        Option 1 - Sovereign states that treaty with each other.  Rejected by the founding fathers as too dangerous to the interests of the states as a whole.

        Option 2 - A loose confederation of sovereign states - adopted by the Founding Fathers by the Articles of Confederation.  Briefly revived by the South during the Civil War.

        Option 3 - A federation of sovereign states, with some powers given exclusively to the nation, and some exclusively to the states.  Adopted by the US Constitution.  The form of government we have, right now.

        Option 4 - One nation-state with exclusive control of all powers.  Not seriously considered at the time of the nation's founding.  

  •  Too bad no one is interested, or paying enough (3+ / 0-)

    attention to ALEC. One day we'd wish they were all arrested and thrown in prison for conspiracy to overthrow the government of this country. They are corrupt and anti America as it gets.

  •  They can push this idea all they like (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    however, I highly doubt the American people would ever go for it.

    So even if they do get an amendment passed - which would be a heavy lift in and of itself, ratification is highly unlikely.

    We all know what this is about:  Republicans have a hard time winning senate races because they can't gerrymander.  I believe even non-teabag Republicans know this and would rather vote directly.  So let the baggers delude themselves.

  •  This proposal completely ignores the real (4+ / 0-)

    reason for the 17th Amendment:

    Senate elections had become so corrupt that it was necessary to get them out of the hands of the easily bought legislatures and into general elections - much less likely to be corrupted.

    Form follows function -- Louis Sullivan

    by Spud1 on Sun Nov 24, 2013 at 08:38:16 PM PST

  •  Democracy? Elected representatives? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Representation of actual people?

    Where is that in the neocon interpretaion of the Contitution?  

    And those damned amendments! You know... Those ones that allow women and blacks to vote... and all that other crap. The only one that they'd keep is the second, and then tear the rest of it apart to appoint some deified king to replace the Executive Branch.... maybe even dig up Reagan's body and display it under glass like the Russians do with Lenin.

    Terrorism has many forms and entry points in an effort to collapse a country. Grover Norquist and the rest of these ALEC insurgents need to be flushed out, publicly identified for what they are and sent to Gitmo for further evaluation... prolonged, EXTENSIVE evaluation.

  •  extremism is a function of primaries, ALEC is (2+ / 0-)

    apparently afraid to take on ending primaries, so couches the issue in good old cotton states rights.


  •  Fortunately, nibbling around the edges is all (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    ALEC can do with a Constitutional Amendment. There is definitely something to be said for making the Constitution difficult to change, as frustrating as that may be at times.

    You might very well think that; I couldn't possibly comment.

    by MikePhoenix on Sun Nov 24, 2013 at 09:42:14 PM PST

  •  Can you expand on the final paragraph? (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    OleHippieChick, scott5js

    The whole article was about the 17th Amendment, but in the final paragraph you change the subject to having the Tea Party wanting to repeal the 14th Amendment, when you didn't mention it at all in the previous paragraphs.


    and advance democracy.

    :  Any state with a population of five million (5,000,000) shall be able to elect another Senator and receive an additional Senator for each additional increase in five million citizens.  All Senators shall be elected at large and represent the entire state in Congress.

    •  this is a testable hypothesis (0+ / 0-)

      There's no doubt that the Senate is "further left" than it would be if Senators were appointed by state legislatures. BUT: is this because of the convoluted reason they're giving, or is it because of, oh, I dunno, gerrymandering? If it's for the reason they're suggesting then we might expect:

      * The Senate should be similar to the House (since the House consists of federal employees too)

      * A state's Senators should be further left of other statewide offices, like Governor.

      Someone want to run the numbers on this? Anyone? Nate Silver?

    •  Other democracies do (0+ / 0-)

      have upper house appointed by state governments, but these tend to have less power than the lower house and to bettor mirror population.

      For example:

      Country Population Per Legislator Ratio
      Austria 1.64
      Germany 13.62
      Switzerland 40.95
      United States 66.04
      In Germany and Austria, representation in the upper house is proportioned to mirror population.  In the case of Germany the number of votes to elect a legislator in the largest district is about 14 times that in the smallest.

      Switzerland has equal representation (2) except for half cantons (1) which yields a largest to smallest ratio of about 41.  It should be noted that those historically those half cantons have been the most likely to use Landsgemeinde, essentially a direct meeting of all citizens, to conduct business.

      by ManfromMiddletown on Mon Nov 25, 2013 at 07:14:53 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Why have a Senate? (0+ / 0-)

    If we insist that a democracy needs a HOUSE of LORDS, then
    the Constitution prescribes its solution. Here is a radical proposal: Amend the Constitution to require that no state with fewer than four congressmen can be awarded a senator. States qualifying for a senator may be awarded additional seats in the Senate determined by a proportional rule; namely, the number of senators awarded to a state will be the integer part of the quotient obtained by dividing the number of congressional seats by four.

    By this algorithm, states like Wyoming and Alaska would be stripped of Senators. States like California, Texas, and Florida would be awarded additional plums. Current senators, having miles and miles of sand and or swamp for their constituencies would be sent home to enjoy their nothingness.

    Let X be an entity; call it Y.

    by Senile Goat on Mon Nov 25, 2013 at 06:40:09 AM PST

  •  Well done, Dante! (0+ / 0-)

    You've laid this out beautifully. I'm amazed that people aren't up in arms about this! Talk about subverting democracy--ALEC leads the way, all right.

    "Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich."--Napoleon

    by Diana in NoVa on Mon Nov 25, 2013 at 12:16:29 PM PST

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