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TX Tea Party Toast: Repeal 17th Amendment, Let State Legislators Pick US Senators

Thursday evening at a forum in Clear Lake, TX, all four Republican candidates for the state's Lieutenant Governor stated their support for a repeal of the 17th amendment, which allows for direct election of U.S. Senators rather than election by a state's legislature.

Let that sink in: the four Republicans vying for the #2 job in the state don't think Texas voters should select their own U.S. Senators.

Some history on the 17th Amendment: it was formally adopted in May of 1913, after a campaign by progressive reformers such as William Jennings Bryan, and yes, Texas did ratify it along the way. At the time, U.S. Senate elections were perceived to be "bought and sold" by corrupt legislators. Interestingly, one of the outcomes was a rise in influence of city-dwelling voters, as legislatures tended to gerrymander districts such that one rural voter had as much influence as 200 city voters. (And, keep in mind, this was far before women and minorities had the right to vote, and before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of one-person-one-vote.)

The contemporary push to abolish the 17th Amendment — not to be confused with support for the 10th Amendment, a stand-in for Rick Perry's flirtation with secession, or the "2nd Amendment Solutions" hinted at by conservatives who fantasize about rising up in arms against the Feds until they're smoked by a drone — traces back to that fateful year 2010, when Tea Party Republicans brought their special flavor of crazy to the corridors of the Capitol. At the time, Marc Ambinder outlined how contemporary opposition to the 17th Amendment originated in the Tea Party during the fateful cycle as an accessory to the rise of unqualified, anti-intellectual, ideologically extreme Republicans who won long-shot elections.

I can't say it makes "sense," but I can see how Tea Party Republicans in Democratic-majority states would see a "17th Amendment Solution" as a way to combat the electoral will of Democratic voters marginalized by legislative gerrymandering. After all, Florida, Michigan, Iowa, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin all went for Obama in 2008 and 2012 and have Republicans in control of one or both legislative bodies, and several others — Arkansas, Indiana, Louisiana, Montana, and North Dakota — have Democratic U.S. Senators and Republican legislatures. The rare Tea Partier who can do math can see how direct election of U.S. Senators by the actual voters keeps Harry Reid in charge of the U.S. Senate. Those pesky voters!

Of course, all of this is not an argument in favor of abolishing the 17th Amendment, though the most right-wing conservatives who find this post via Google may take it as such. Ultimately, if you oppose the 17th Amendment, you're telling the voters of your state that they lack the right and intellectual capacity to choose their own U.S. Senators. It's a stance that is fundamentally in opposition to democracy, and that makes it anti-American in my book. Think of the money the likes of the Koch brothers would spend to buy off even more state legislators if they thought it could result in the purchase of even more U.S. Senate seats. It's staggering and an affront to our democratic system.

Now, opposition to direct election of U.S. Senators has come home to roost here in Texas, where the four Republicans seeking the nomination for Lieutenant Governor have all determined that they must cater to the run-off electorate that sent master debater Ted Cruz to Washington over GOP establishment lackey David Dewhurst, and are choosing to do so by backing a measure that would have reversed the outcome of the 2012 U.S. Senate election.

Last Thursday, all four Lieutenant Governor hopefuls attended a forum hosted by the Clear Lake Tea Party, during which the white dudes vying to control the State Senate told a room full of other old, graying Tea Partiers what they would do if elected. The answer clearly wasn't "uphold the constitution in its entirety," as all four — David Dewhurst, Dan Patrick, Jerry Patterson and Todd Staples — agreed that they support repealing the 17th Amendment.

Lt Gov Dewhurst and Sen. Patrick call for repeal of 17th Amendment.

— Bob Price (@BobPriceTGV) October 4, 2013

@scottbraddock After Meeting I checked with Patterson & Staples. They agree on repealing the 17th Amendment as well

— Bob Price (@BobPriceTGV) October 4, 2013

The motivation for Dewhurst seems as petty as it seems obvious: if the Legislature chose our Senators, he'd be in D.C. right now bringing up the GOP's rear, instead of team-captain-of-the-government-shut-down Ted Cruz.

It comes across as little more than sour grapes, and Tea Party activists who support The Dew's stance on this issue need to realize he's saying they made a mistake in electing Cruz instead of him.

As for Dan Patrick, he's likely still cranky about having to defend his support for Dewhurst over Ted Cruz in 2012, something he's now furiously back-pedaling in his primary challenge against that same Lite Gov. To be fair, had The Dew gone to Washington, Patrick may well have been elected to lead the upper chamber over the less-insane John Carona — remember that email exchange? Not that there's much daylight between any of the candidates on supporting Dewhurst over Cruz — Patterson and Staples also endorsed The Dew in 2012.

Here in Texas, allowing the Legislature to elect our U.S. Senators would only further marginalize the voices of minorities and women, and thanks to gerrymandering could help further suppress Democratic voting strength at the ballot box.

Only 21 percent of Texas legislators are women, and roughly 33 percent of all House and Senate members are minorities. Compare that to a population that is over 50 percent women and 55.2 percent minority, and you'll see how allowing the Legislature to choose our U.S. Senators would further marginalize the already-marginalized voices in our state.

Furthermore, it's an elitist argument to suggest that the only people fit to select our U.S. Senators are those 181 individuals who have to luxury to take six months off from their "real" jobs every other year to come down to make laws in Austin — to say nothing of the time spent campaigning in between sessions. Folks who need their hourly paycheck can hardly afford to run for the legislature, let alone serve in it.

Opposing the 17th Amendment is crazy talk. It's anti-American in its opposition to democracy and privileging of gerrymandered elitists over the will of the voters.

It's no surprise to see all four Lieutenant Governors adopt this stance in their desperate efforts to win over Tea Party activists, but all voters should keep in mind that these Republican candidates think that the Legislature — not exactly the bastion of sane public policy — knows better than they who should represent Texas in the U.S. Senate.  

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