US Senate Remains Appointed

Discussion in 'Alternate History Discussion: After 1900' started by Carl Schwamberger, Jul 19, 2019.

  1. Carl Schwamberger Well-Known Member

    Dec 14, 2012
    Popular election of the US Senate came about gradually. Any thoughts on the pros and cons, or the possibilities of the Senate remaining predominately appointed? I'm pondering some bits of literature on the subject, and criticism of the Senate as it presently exists.
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  2. Jackson Lennock Well-Known Member

    Dec 18, 2017
    Are you asking specifically about the passage of the 17th Amendment, or are you asking about the practice writ large?

    When the amendment was passed, the majority of states already had direct election of Senators. I can see there being a few states holding out over time, but odds 35-40 states will end up with it over time.

    A big downside of legislatures appointing senators is that it nationalizes state-level elections. Who you vote for for state house and state senate means who gets elected to the Senate. There'd be more state-level gerrymandering here and less focus on state issues. Of course, this logic is what inspired Operation REDMAP, the GOP effort that targeted state legislatures so that there be more Republican seats in the Congress today (if you look at the 2012 election, Pelosi beat Boehner by 1.2% in the popular vote but Republicans held the majority by a wide margin).

    On the other hand, State Legislatures appointing candidates likely means less nationalization of policy. Many state legislatures were pretty jealous of sovereignty and as such would send people to DC who might be progressive at the state level but skeptical of the federal government doing things.

    Of course a big big big issue is that there'd be quite a few circumstances in which states would lack Senate delegations as State Legislatures become deadlocked.

    Plus, when Senators' jobs were dependent on currying favor with state legislators, they tended to spend more time focusing on the affairs of their state. On the other hand, it was also easier for the rich to influence Senators when they were chosen by state legislators. Just call up a Senator and say that unless they lean your way, you're going to pay off some state legislators to screw you out of the job.

    Personally, I quite enjoy the idea that most states have direct election and a few holdout states that lack it.
  3. Raferty Well-Known Member

    Oct 23, 2017
    I think it would more accurately reflect local state views at the national level.

    Senators who report to legislatures rather than trying to independently build a national brand that accrues powers and benefits to themselves that can be continually cashed out into gravitas to win elections might be far less likely to "go native" to Washington
  4. Carl Schwamberger Well-Known Member

    Dec 14, 2012
    Writ large.

    All this works both ways. Its not clear to me now which makes the 1% more influential.

    To mean anything it would need to be more than a few holdouts. 35% to 40% minimum.
  5. Carl Schwamberger Well-Known Member

    Dec 14, 2012
    Currently both Senators and Congressmen seem to be less native to Washington than in the 19th or 20th Centuries. Some claim that when their children attended the same schools near DC, and they ate with the wife in the same resturants inter party communication and compromise was better. I'd to hear from a expert on that.
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  6. BigBlueBox Well-Known Member

    Jun 21, 2017
    Southern California
    Now they just call up the senator and threaten to donate their money to their opponent's campaign instead of them, or offer them a cushy corporate "consulting" job after they retire from politics.
  7. Alonna Well-Known Member

    Jul 14, 2010
    One of the original reasons for the 17th amendment was as an anti-corruption measure due to issues with Senate seats being effectively bought and sold. If Senators remain appointed, you'd expect to see more scandals like Rod Blagojevich's attempt to sell Obama's Senate seat.
  8. David T Well-Known Member

    Nov 8, 2007
    This is totally wrong for a number of reasons, above all because of its equation of the composition of the state legislature with popular opinion in the state. (Unless by "local state views" you mean the views of the state legislators rather than of the people of the state. In which case, what you are stating would in the first place be a tautology and in the second place is exactly what the Seventeenth Amendment was directed against--Senators putting state legislators' views ahead of the views of the people of the state.)

    First of all, it wasn't until the 1960's that the Supreme Court imposed the one-person-one-vote requirement on elections to state legislatures. Until then, rural areas were strongly overrepresented in the state legislatures, big cities were often underrepresented--and when big cities did start to lose population after World War II, they were sometimes overrepresented but the fast-growing suburbs very underrepresented.

    An extreme example: in the California State Senate until 1967 Los Angeles County (1950 population 6,000,000) had the same number of state senators (one) as Alpine County--1960 population 397.
    (This was justified by analogies to the US Senate. I don't think the analogy stands, because counties are entirely creatures of the state governments, but even if you want to argue that the system was justified, it would be absurd to claim that it represented the opinion of the people of California.)

    Second, even after one-person-one-vote, state legislatures are often unrepresentative of public opinion in the state because of political gerrymandering--a practice with which the US Supreme Court has now said it will not interfere.

    Third, even with districts of equal population and no intentional partisan gerrymandering, state legislatures can be unrepresentative of the view of the people of the states because of "clustering"--the supporters of one party are disproportionately concentrated in a relatively few districts, where the party wins overwhelmingly, while losing in the majority of districts.

    Anyway, in 2018 "Majorities of voters in at least three battleground states - Pennsylvania, Michigan and North Carolina - chose a Democrat to represent them in the state's House of Representatives. Yet in all three states, Republicans maintained majority control over the chamber despite winning only a minority of votes." I doubt very much that US Senators selected by such legislatures would be more representative of the views of the people of the state in 2018 than senators chosen by popular election....

    BTW, as others have noted, popular election would come about--and in the majority of states already had come about--without the Seventeenth Amendment.

    "By 1911, a year before the Seventeenth Amendment was proposed, over half the states had adopted the Oregon system or something like it; in many states, the ballot for state legislative elections stated whether the candidate had pledged to support the winner of the popular election for United States Senate. In at least three states, the state constitution required state legislators to elect the Senate candidate who received the most votes in the primary.80 Things had reached the point where the following exchange occurred on the floor of the Senate between Senators Cummins of Iowa, who favored the Seventeenth Amendment, and Senator Heyburn of Idaho, a rock-ribbed opponent:

    "Mr. CUMMINS. . . . [T]he Senator from Idaho is
    insisting . . . that if the voters of the United States be
    permitted to say who shall be their Senators, then this
    body will be overrun by a crowd of incompetent and unfit
    and rash and socialistic and radical men who have no
    proper views of government. I am simply recalling to his
    attention the fact that the people of this country, in
    despair of amending the Constitution, have accomplished
    this reform for themselves.
    Mr. HEYBURN. Like a burglar.
    Mr. CUMMINS. In an irregular way, I agree, but they
    have accomplished it.
    Mr. HEYBURN. Like a burglar.
    Mr. CUMMINS. And they have accomplished it so
    effectively that, whether the Constitution is amended or
    not, the people in many or most of the States will choose
    their own Senators.

    "The Seventeenth Amendment, therefore, did not bring about the direct election of Senators; it ratified a practice of de facto direct election that had been instituted by other means."
    Last edited: Jul 20, 2019
  9. Raferty Well-Known Member

    Oct 23, 2017
    That was exactly what I was implying; the point of the Senate is to represent states, not the people, which is what the House is for. Otherwise, the Senate is a completely unnecessary branch of the legislature, and if you want to make that case, then fine.

    The Senate should be representing the views of state governments at the national level. The imperfections of state governance and the reasons for the 17th Amendment were certainly valid, and the state I live in is proof of that still, with our Congressional Districts drawn up completely awfully and it being even worse at the state legislative level.

    (This monstrosity, which until recently I lived in, is proof of that :'s_3rd_congressional_district)

    I am willing to concede all of that. But if the state legislatures had a bigger impact on national politics, I believe local politics would not be as neglected as it is, as the stakes would be higher.
  10. David T Well-Known Member

    Nov 8, 2007
    The Senate is still something very different in the basis of representation than the House. Both are popularly elected, but in the Senate the states are still equally represented, and in that sense the Senate still represents state interests (as long as you do not equate "the state" with "the state legislature.") Thus, it is not necessarily true that the Senate has become superfluous; the purported justification of preventing large states from oppressing small ones remains. (It's a rather dubious justification IMO because I think there are much worse instances of oppression than of small states by large ones--but insofar as that was the purported justification, it remains as valid after the 17th Amendment as before. And in any event, most states had already decided for themselves even before the 17th Amendment that "the state" meant "the people of the state.")
  11. Thomas Jefferson Well-Known Member

    Jun 11, 2012
    The biggest change would probably be who gets elected Senator. If election to the Senate is determined by the state legislatures, then the ability to make deals with/appeal to legislators becomes more important than mass appeal. This means that candidates like JFK, Richcard Nixon, and Barack Obama are likely to be passed up in favor of more tenured state legislators, or Representatives whose seates someone in the legislature wants.
  12. David T Well-Known Member

    Nov 8, 2007
    The basic problem is that, as I pointed out, having the Seventeenth Amendment fail would not be enough, because most states would still have de facto popular elections. So the only plausible POD would be to somehow eliminate the entire ethos of the Progressive Era, and that would have countless effects, of which the effect on how the Senate is elected would be among the least important.
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  13. theev Suede-Denim Secret Police

    May 7, 2015
    I mean, there was a pretty big problem with corruption between state legislatures and senators before the 17th amendment.
  14. Galba Otho Vitelius Well-Known Member

    Apr 21, 2016
    It was the 1787 Convention that screwed it up. They should have made up their minds and gone for a real upper house like the House of Lords, or made the US Senate like the Bundesrat that really represent the state governments, providing that state governments appoint and remove Senators however they wanted to according to the applicable state laws. There was also no need for two Senators from each state, one would be fine and with just 50 Senators the weird Senate rule would be less of a problem.

    The 17th Amendment improved things, but better to abolish the Senate or elect it on a nationwide basis. Both the original scheme and the 17th Amendment turned the Senate into just another chamber of the legislature with weird rules and election from unequal districts, originally indirect election and later direct election.
  15. Alcsentre Calanice Our Equivalent of Click Bait

    Aug 20, 2014
    Mimigernaford, Transrhenian Republic
    I think @Raferty really has a point here. It's true that today, Senators are elected by the people, and thus represent the ideological preferences of their state.

    However, as national politicians, they're closely aligned to their national parties. After all, ideological preferences don't vary that much between a Republican in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. In the Senate, most Senators vote along party lines, to further the party's interests and the party's platform, even if the bill they approve actually weakens the states they're meant to represent. In the long run, this weakens states' rights and undermines federalism, one of the core tenets of American democracy.

    If the Senators were still elected by the state legislatures, or even better, appointed by state governors as their German counterparts are, they would have a real incentive to protect the financial and legislative autonomy of their state.

    For example, I wonder if any state government did really approve of No Child Left Behind; it basically forced the states to drastically change their education policy, even though the US Constitution does not delegate the matter to the federal government. Education is, constitutionally, left to the states; it's not among the powers of Congress.

    I really wonder if a Senate really representing the states, i. e. their governments and interests, would have passed such legislation.
  16. Alonna Well-Known Member

    Jul 14, 2010
    Having Senators appointed by the governor could have the unintended side effect of nationalizing gubernatorial races. Right now, governorships tend to be less partisan than other offices which is why we still see people like John Bel Edwards and Charlie Baker winning in states where their party membership is at odds with the state's partisan lean. If the governor appoints a state's Senators, Charlie Baker probably becomes unelectable in Massachusetts because the Senators he would appoint would be politically at odds with the state's electorate.
  17. Alcsentre Calanice Our Equivalent of Click Bait

    Aug 20, 2014
    Mimigernaford, Transrhenian Republic
    Maybe, but the governor would still mainly be occupied by state affairs, and by limiting states' rights, he would also limit his own power.
  18. David T Well-Known Member

    Nov 8, 2007
    First of all, even if you think the proper function of the Senate is to represent state governments, choice by the state legislature was a flawed system, since the "government" consists of the governor as well as the legislature. In 2018, for example, PA and MI both elected Democratic governors as well as Democratic US Senators; yet under the old system the state legislatures (both controlled by Republicans due to gerrymandering, even though in both states more people voted for Democratic state legislators) would elect Republican US Senators contrary to not only the desires of the people of the state but also of the executive branch of the government. Or in 1858, who represented the "government" of the state of Illinois--the state legislature (which was Democratic thanks to the fact that rapidly growing northern Illinois was underrepresented in it, and which voted to re-elect Stephen A. Douglas) or the executive branch which was controlled by Republicans (they had won the governorship in 1856 and won the two statewide elections for executive office--state treasurer and state superintendent of public instruction--in 1858) and would have appointed Lincoln?

    Second, the German analogy is flawed because in Germany the state governments are chosen by Länder legislatures which in turn are chosen by proportional representation, so that the unrepresentative nature of many state legislatures in the US (chosen by first-past-the-post) does not apply. Another reason it is flawed is that in Germany the Bundesrat is considerably less powerful than the Bundestag, whereas in the US the Senate is if anything more powerful than the House.

    Third, until recently it was not true that senators from the same party voted the same way regardless of state. In particular, southern Democratic senators often aligned themselves with the Republicans while some Republicans especially from the Northeast (Javits, Case, Brooke, etc.) often voted with the Democrats. Polarization has changed this of course but it has also meant that state legislatures of the same party vote similarly regardless of the state. A few decades ago, for example, it would have been inconceivable for even a Republican state legislature in Michigan to vote for "right to work" laws.

    In any event, I don't agree that state governments, however defined, necessarily are better judges of "the interests of the state" than the people--unless you beg the question by defining "the interests of the state" as whatever the state governments want.
    Last edited: Jul 22, 2019
  19. 52cardsshortofadeck Well-Known Member

    Mar 9, 2015
    Perhaps the ATL!17th Amendment instead specifies that state legislatures must be elected by some PR or Condorcet method, and perhaps also specifies that electoral fusion must be allowed for federal and gubernatorial elections, at least. That would create a more representative state legislature, and, if there's the fusion clause, a reason for national level parties to cooperate wrt state-level parties (not strictly necessary to allow an appointed Senate to be more representative, but perhaps necessary for it to function).

    Of course, then you'd have to find plausible reasons for such an amendment to come about, which would seem to be easier said than done.
  20. Zheng He Well-Known Member

    Aug 3, 2013
    Hey that's my district, where do you live now?