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.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.
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.
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.