When the US Constitution was initially ratified, election of members of the House of Representatives was by the people in the state. Members of the Senate were elected by their state’s legislature (or appointed by the governor until the legislature met again – many states’ legislatures are not in session year-round). The 17th Amendment changed the way the Senators were elected, by putting the election into the hands of the people, just as the Representatives are elected.
When writing the Constitution, the arguments went back and forth about how the states would be represented under this new nation. The populous states (New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, etc…) wanted the process to be based upon population. The states with smaller populations (Rhode Island, Delaware, New Jersey, etc…) wanted equal say and would not have it under that system. A compromise was that we would have two Houses – a lower House, one based upon population elected by the population of that state; and an upper House, one represented by an equal number of individuals, elected by the state’s legislature. The lower House (House of Representatives) was to represent the people, thus the election by the people; and the upper House (Senate) was to represent the state, thus election by the state’s legislature.
When a Senator’s term was at an end, they might not be re-elected because the overall make-up of their state legislature may have changed and their party may not be in control anymore. This was a style of term limit ensuring that the state’s goals were effectively and accurately represented by the Senators from that state. The Senate’s job, if you remember, is to represent the state. The state legislatures are filled with honorable men and women (ok – at least we hope they are) that have a working knowledge of what they want their Senators to accomplish for their state. The state legislatures are filled with people elected by their neighbors because they are known and trusted by them. They are trusted to not only conduct the business of their own neighborhoods in the state assemblies, but to be our eyes and ears to pick the Senators who will be represent the state. The 17th Amendment changed a great many things: First, the knowledgeable people, as stated earlier, are no longer electing the Senators – the neighbors of the knowledgeable people are. While many of these people work at ensuring they know who their Senator is and what their Senator stands for, it’s not as easy, since they don’t know them like they know their neighbors elected to the state legislature. This causes many Senators to stay in the Senate for many terms. It’s easier to just keep re-electing the Senator who’s there than really look into it and pick the right person. It’s much easier to pick the person for your state legislature, since know them. You know their secrets, you know their kids, you know their families.
One of the most talked about items from all across the Country is Congressional term limits. The House of Representatives takes care of itself – mostly. There is usually a high turnover, indicated by large swings during the elections. The entire House gets elected- or re-elected - every two years. While there is validity to House term limits, today we're specifically talking about the Senate in regards to term limits. The people elect Senators who have said in a debate somewhere that they would like to see term limits really looked at. What does that mean? It means, “Please vote for me. I have no intention on seeking term limits when in office, but I could really use your vote.” If we really seek term limits, we need to look to our predecessors and do it the way they did. There were unofficial term limits when the legislatures elected the Senators. The Senators represent the state – supposedly. We need to repeal the 17th Amendment. By doing this, we will return the Government makeup to that which our Founding Fathers intended. A House for the People and a House for the States. We will, as a byproduct, reinstall term limits and reel in the four, five and six term Senators (Republican and Democrat), who rely on an uninformed population to keep their job. We will also reinforce the idea of the sovereignty of the states in this process. To understand more on the sovereignty issue, please check out my previous blog post on the Electoral College here.
There are two ways to amend the Constitution. Only one of these relies on our Congress to police themselves. Article V - "The Congress, whenever two thirds of both houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose amendments to this Constitution, or, on the application of the legislatures of two thirds of the several states, shall call a convention for proposing amendments, which, in either case, shall be valid to all intents and purposes, as part of this Constitution, when ratified by the legislatures of three fourths of the several states, or by conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other mode of ratification may be proposed by the Congress; provided that no amendment which may be made prior to the year one thousand eight hundred and eight shall in any manner affect the first and fourth clauses in the ninth section of the first article; and that no state, without its consent, shall be deprived of its equal suffrage in the Senate."
This threat of Constitutional Convention was actually used to initiate the 17th Amendment. This was done to force Congress to act and Amend the Constitution, due to Senatorial corruption. The states thought that by changing the election to the People, this issue would fix itself. Not only is there as much corruption as before (some would say there’s even more), but we’ve got ‘forever Senators’ now. There are enough people around the Country from both parties who are clamoring for term limits, that I believe the Country would definitely consider this as an option now, even though they changed it before. Congress will not stand by and let the states call a convention, since many other topics could also be dealt with (definition of marriage, abortion, etc…). Congress will call for an amendment to repeal the 17th if enough fervor is heard about a Constitutional Convention.
Read the Constitution and contact your state legislature.