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A Senate candidate’s comment about repealing the 17th Amendment has some people thumbing through their Constitutions and others talking about the issue of states’ rights.
Pete Hoekstra, a Republican, is a former House of Representatives member who is running in Michigan against an incumbent, Senator Debbie Stabenow.
The newsletter and website Roll Call dug up comments from Hoekstra, made last November, about overturning the 17th Amendment, which allows citizens to vote directly for U.S. senators.
“The direct election of U.S. Senators made the U.S. Senate act and behave like the House of Representatives,” Hoekstra said last year in a radio interview. “The end result has led to an erosion of states’ rights.”
Ironically, Hoekstra had served in the House of Representatives from 1993 until 2010, and he is running for a Senate seat under a process he would outlaw.
In 1913, the 17th Amendment was passed to override part of Article 1, Section 3, of the Constitution, which designated that state legislatures, not the people, select two people per state to serve as senators.
Back in 1787, the theory was that the indirect election of senators would give state legislatures a direct voice in the federal government, and act as a guarantee of states’ rights.
But problems with deadlocked legislatures and corruption led to a reform movement that advocated direct elections for the Senate.
The movement prevailed in 1913 as Congress acted to get the 17th Amendment passed onto the states for approval. The states themselves were close to calling their own constitutional convention before Congress acted.
Today, Hoekstra and some other GOP members couch the argument of a 17th Amendment repeal in the concept of giving states back their full rights under the Constitution.
The Roll Call article lists four other GOP members who’ve made remarks about repealing the amendment since 2010: Representatives Jeff Flake and Todd Akin, Indiana state treasurer Richard Mourdock, and Senator Mike Lee.
Mourdock, a Senate candidate in Indiana, said earlier this year that the 17th Amendment hurts the states.
“The House of Representatives was there to represent the people. The Senate was there to represent the states,” Mourdock said in February.
A Hoekstra spokesman later said the candidate “never exerted any energy” in pushing the 17th Amendment issue.
On Wednesday, the Tucson Citizen and Arizona Republic ran a story on Flake’s comments on the 17th Amendment.
Flake’s opponent picked up on his 17th Amendment bashing, and the little-discussed amendment became part of Arizona’ current Senate election debate – at least for a few minutes.
“Congressman Flake is proving his extreme ideas are not even remotely tethered to reality,” said a spokesman for Richard Carmona, Flake’s opponent.
In remarks send to the Arizona Republic, Flake downplayed the incident.
“I’m under no illusion that you’ll ever go back because you have 100 senators who have been elected who would worry that they wouldn’t be appointed, and so I think we’ve probably crossed that Rubicon,” Flake said.
A Flake spokesman added that the candidate never called for the 17th Amendment’s repeal.
Also, remarks from other politicians cited in the Roll Call article seem philosophical in nature.
The logistics involved in repealing an amendment are truly daunting. Only one amendment has been repealed in 225 years, when the 21st Amendment repealed the 18th Amendment, which established Prohibition in 1919.
If the 17th Amendment were repealed today, it would certainly benefit the Republicans.
Currently, the GOP controls 60 state chambers (houses or senates), and under the terms of the original Article 1, Section 3, of the Constitution, that would potentially give the Republicans at least 60 seats in the U.S. Senate.
The Republicans also fully control both legislatures in 26 states.
Scott Bomboy in the editor-in-chief of the National Constitution Center.
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