Georgia Legislators Propose Ending Direct Election of Senators—Why Not Just Get Rid of the Senate?

| Fri Feb. 15, 2013 12:45 PM EST
Atlanta skyline at dusk.

It is a matter of public record that the United States Senate is a terrible place where serious policy issues are ignored; routine votes are occasionally delayed over concerns about non-existent terrorist groups; and proverbial cans are proverbially kicked down the proverbial road of sadness, gridlock, and despair.

What's less clear is why the Senate is such a congress of louts. Is it the endless pressure to raise money? The never-ending campaign? The fact that Americans hold lots of substantive disagreements on important things and are themselves—it's been said—somewhat dysfunctional?

Actually, according to Georgia state Rep. Buzz Brockaway, the biggest problem with the Senate is that it's democratically elected. Brockaway, a Republican, has introduced a bill in the state legislature to repeal the 17th Amendment, which provides for the direct election of senators, and instead restore the responsibility of choosing members to state legislatures (as was the process until 1913).

The bill, HR 273, laments that "the Seventeenth Amendment has resulted in a large federal government with power and control that cannot be checked by the states," and suggests that "the original purpose of the United States Senate was to protect the sovereignty of the states from the federal government and to give each individual state government representation in the federal legislative branch of government."

If the bill passed, Georgia would be the first state to endorse repealing the 17th Amendment, but the idea has gained traction among conservatives over the last few decades. Texas Gov. Rick Perry supports it; so do GOP Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Jeff Flake of Arizona. (Republican Indiana Sen. candidate Richard Mourdock endorsed the idea during his campaign last year, before, in an ironic twist, losing the popular vote.) As Salon's Alex Seitz-Wald noted in 2012, conservatives blame the 17th Amendment for trampling over the rights of states by changing the constituency to which senators are accountable.

Of course, introducing a bill is the easy part. Getting voters to agree to give up their right to vote will probably be a tough sell.