Newspaper article News Sentinel

Editorial: Kill Bill to Replace Senate Primaries with Caucuses

Newspaper article News Sentinel

Editorial: Kill Bill to Replace Senate Primaries with Caucuses

Article excerpt

The state Senate is scheduled to vote today to bar rank-and-file Republicans and Democrats from choosing candidates for the U.S. Senate.

This is no April Fool's joke.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains, would eliminate primary elections for U.S. Senate seats and replace them with legislative caucuses. That would mean that state legislators, not the people, would elect Senate candidates for the major parties. The notion conjures visions of smoke-filled rooms, secret deal-making and influence-peddling. These hand-picked candidates would be on the ballot in the general election. Voters would have no say in the matter, though it's guaranteed that lobbyists would.

That should be reason enough to stop the bill, but legislators, who exempt themselves from inconvenient laws such as the Open Meetings Act, often are seduced by the prospect of gaining more power.

State legislators picked U.S. senators from the country's infancy until the 17th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified 100 years ago. The idea was that the U.S. Senate represented state governments, while the U.S. House of Representatives represented the people.

Today's legislators have their Gilded Age predecessors to blame for losing their grip on the upper house of Congress. Corruption tainted some of the appointments and often -- 45 times between 1891 and 1905 -- legislatures deadlocked, resulting in unfilled Senate seats.

The populist reaction was to change the Constitution to give the right to vote for senators to the people. The Great Commoner, William Jennings Bryan, gave the movement a powerful voice. …

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