Senate Judiciary Committee member Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) today proposed ending the practice of governors filling vacancies to the U.S. Senate with a Constitutional amendment mandating special elections for all open Senate seats.
“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 midterm vacancies, so that the Senate is as responsive as possible to the will of the people,” Feingold said.
The Wisconsin Democrat continued promised to introduce the Constitutional amendment, and hold a hear on the topic in the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, “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.”
This is a no-brainer that both parties should be in favor of. The idea that the governor of a state knows is better qualified to appoint a senator that his constituents are to elect one is archaic 19th Century thinking. Feingold’s proposed amendment is a direct response to the Blago-Burris debacle in Illinois, and Gov. Patterson’s handling of filling Hillary Clinton’s vacant Senate seat in New York.
The fact that incumbent senators are retained at over a 90% rate makes the filling of vacancies a critical decision. The citizens of a state deserve to have their voices heard when a replacement must be chosen to fill out a Senate term. The whole Roland Burris fiasco could have been avoided if the governor only had the power to call a special election, not fill the seat. The recent situations in New York and Illinois demonstrated how governors can play politics with these appointments. This is why the law must be altered to put the decision back into the hands of the people.