By Betsy NewmarkHigh School Government and History Teacher/Blogger

This is change I can support. Russ Feingold intends to introduce a constitutional amendment calling for special elections to replace senators when a vacancy arises.

His release:

"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. As the Chairman of the Constitution Subcommittee, I will hold a hearing on this important topic soon."

I am skeptical that it will go anywhere. First of all, passing a constitutional amendment is an incredibly high hurdle. That's why we only have 27 of them.

We shouldn't be facing the prospect of governors picking the person most likely to further the governor's own electoral future or picking someone who will quietly melt away in two years so that the party's real choice can step in as happened in Delaware to preserve the Joe Biden seat for his son.

It was just a few years ago, after 9/11, that there was a push for governors to have the power to appoint House members in case of a national calamity which wiped out most of the Congress. Look for that to be used as an argument against this. They'll cite the cost that this would impose on states. They might also argue that presidents will be less likely to nominate senators out of fear of what will be the result of a special election. Now a president knows at least the party of the new senator by looking at the party of the governor. Who knows what will happen in a special election? And such uncertainty might mean that presidents won't avail themselves of the supposed expertise that senators could provide.

But the real hitch will come from both national and state officials who want to safeguard the political status quo.

They fear that special elections might shake things up too much. That is why the Illinois legislature decided not to hold a special election in the face of the Blagojevich scandal. They were too afraid that a Republican might actually win.

But we're long past the time when one person should make such a decision. We shouldn't be facing the prospect of governors picking the person most likely to further the governor's own electoral future or picking someone who will quietly melt away in two years so that the party's real choice can step in as happened in Delaware to preserve the Joe Biden seat for his son. And the sight of politicians kow-towing to Governor Paterson along with all the leaks and political maneuvering surrounding the naming of a replacement for Hillary Clinton has left everyone involved from the Governor to Caroline Kennedy to the eventual replacement, Kirsten Gillebrand looking smaller and definitely less attractive.

So, unlike his ideas on campaign finance reform, Senator Feingold has a very good idea here. I wish him well, but don't expect the politicians to respond to the public distaste for the current method of appointing new senators.

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