There was a time in our nation’s history when US Senators were chosen not by the people, but by state legislatures. The logic was that the House of Representatives would look after the needs of the people while the Senate would consider the needs of the individual states each Senator represented. Under this system, it was reasoned, states would be able to maintain their power within the federal system by providing a check on the rambunctious legislation originating from the People’s House. Furthermore, since state legislative branches were still selected by the people, the people would still have some say in the process.
[pullquote]Only one amendment to the Constitution retracted the rights of the people, Senator Jackson is looking to make it two.[/pullquote]At the turn of the 20th century, however, some problems with this system began to pop up – specifically that Senate seats were being bought and sold by those with enough political power to sway a majority of a legislature rather than a majority of the people. The Populist movement was in full swing and, eventually, the 17th Amendment was drafted and ratified in 1913 – ushering in the popular vote of senators we see today.
Interestingly, Utah was the only state to reject the 17th Amendment when it was being discussed more than a century ago.
Senator Al Jackson (Republican – Highland) is going one step further than Utahns 103 years ago by proposing SJR 2 – Joint Resolution Calling for the Repeal of the 17th Amendment.
The resolution does exactly what you might suspect. If approved the state would formally urge our congressional delegation to draft a repeal of the 17th Amendment to the United States Constitution with the intention of returning the election of senators back to the states.
There has been renewed interest in repealing the 17th Amendment, primarily from the far right, in recent years. The primary reason they point to is focused around the amorphous mantra of state’s rights – noting the issues outlined above. In addition, they claim that private donors have far too much influence in elections as they currently stand; if Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee only had to vie for the support of 38 state House members and 15 state Senators, money would have far less influence in the election of the higher chamber.
Though campaign finance is a goal that most agree upon, one wonders why it should only be restricted to 100 members of the Senate – surely, if it is good enough for them, it is good enough for the President and House of Representatives…and for state offices such as Governor or House/Senate members for that matter.
In regards to state’s rights, one has to wonder if this is what the people want or those lining the halls of state capitols. Though polls are a bit spotty to come by about the popularity of the 17th Amendment (be honest, did you even know what the 17th Amendment was until you started reading this – presumably with an “oh, that one” popping into your head?) a 2013 YouGov/Huffington Post poll showed an astonishing 71 percent of those polled prefer to elect Senators directly by popular vote while 64 percent feel the 17th Amendment should stay in place.
Of course, even the best internet polls can have its faults and we don’t know how representative the poll really is.
What we do know is that only one amendment to the Constitution restricted the rights of the people…and that amendment, prohibition, didn’t last very long.
By pushing for the repeal of the 17th Amendment, Jackson is pushing for a step back for the ability of the people to directly engage their government. Though concerns about campaign finance and state’s rights are legitimate, other, less drastic, changes can be made to our local, state, and national government that do not require an overhaul of our electorial process.
To contact Senator Jackson, click here or call 801-216-4479 (Home).
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