The Dilemma in the Feingold Proposal

Posted in Uncategorized by groffellison on January 25, 2009

images11Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold (D) wants a Constitutional Amendment eliminating Senate appointments by state Governors. Says Feingold: “The controversies surrounding some of the recent gubernatorial appointments to vacant Senate seats make it painfully clear that such appointments are an anachronism that must end.  In 1913, the Seventeenth Amendment to the Constitution gave the citizens of this country the power to finally elect their senators.  They should have the same power in the case of unexpected mid term vacancies, so that the Senate is as responsive as possible to the will of the people.  I plan to introduce a constitutional amendment this week to require special elections when a Senate seat is vacant, as the Constitution mandates for the House, and as my own state of Wisconsin already requires by statute.”

Whereas Feingold’s reasoning is understandable given recent events, one has to question the boldness of a Constitutional change in the midst of tough economic times and other major policy decisions on the national table.  The first question: how substantive and important is this Amendment?  Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) may have been caught on tape discussing the potential bidding of then President-elect Obama’s vacant Senate seat, but money never passed hands.  Nor has the Governor been removed from office by the Illinois Senate, yet. The salacious details create great political drama and provide important conversation on the role of money, corruption and cronyism in politics.

How much of an impact will a fresh Constitutional Amendment have on public policy and governance?  And, won’t this debate, coupled with the unfolding drama in Illinois, distract legislators from the serious business of negotiating and passing a nearly trillion dollar economic stimulus package?  Additionally, won’t special elections place serious financial burdens on states and be perceived as unfunded mandates from the federal government?  How would this Amendment impact the relationship between the federal government and states as Congress will need state cooperation in a crumbling economy?  And then there’s the question of whether unfair federal laws are being imposed on the states.

Politically, a Feingold Amendment may also carry future risks for Democrats, particularly as embattled and angry Governors look for payback if they lose one of their most favorite tools of authority.


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