Filling Senate Seats: A Constitutional Issue
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
In Springfield, Illinois today, a surprise announcement from the state Senate president - Governor Rod Blagojevich has asked to speak during the closing arguments of his impeachment trial. Those closing arguments are set to begin tomorrow.
Today's testimony centered on allegations that he broke state hiring laws, wasted taxpayers' money and acted without proper authority. It was a break from the intense focus on the allegations that he tried to sell President Obama's U.S. senate seat. And that's what's on the mind of our senior news analyst Daniel Schorr.
DANIEL SCHORR: There are four new Democratic senators who have constituencies of one - namely the governors who appointed them to fill vacancies. It is time to recognize that the practice is inherently undemocratic and subject to political manipulation.
The naming of Ted Kaufman in Delaware and Michael Bennet in Colorado didn't create much of a stir. But the designation of Roland Burris by Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, himself facing allegations of corruption, tied the system into knots and became a national scandal.
And in New York, Governor David Paterson made a spectacle of himself as he dilly-dallied over the candidacy of Caroline Kennedy before lurching into the appointment of Representative Kirsten Gillibrand.
Clearly, the framers of our Constitution did not intend to leave the selection of a senator in the hands of a politician with an agenda of his own. Originally, the Constitution provided for senators to be elected by legislatures. To bring the process closer to the people, the 17th Amendment in 1913 provided for direct election of senators with vacancies to be filled by special elections.
As a sort of afterthought, the amendment empowered governors to make temporary appointments pending elections. That was clearly not meant to last up to two years. No doubt an election is costly, but less costly than making a mockery of the process of filling vacancies.
Democratic Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, chairman of the judiciary subcommittee on the Constitution, wants a constitutional amendment requiring that Senate vacancies be filled only by the voters. The time to end the practice of governors appointing senators has surely come. This is Daniel Schorr.