During a Republican primary debate last week, Missouri U.S. Senate candidate Todd Akin told voters that he may support eliminating the direct election of Senators — the right guaranteed by the 17th Amendment:
This is a very interesting question, and I haven’t jumped up and down and taken a firm position on it. I think in general, my, I have a very serious concern about erosion of states rights. Very serious concern of that, and this, reversing this decision might pull that balance back. I am, as I’ve mentioned, a strong conservative, I don’t think the federal government should be doing a whole lot of things that it’s doing and it well may be that a repeal of the 17th Amendment might tend to pull that back but I haven’t written any thesis on it or anything like that.
A repeal of the 17th Amendment would make America fundamentally less democratic, and calling for the repeal shows a distrust of the American people. Moreover, the Amendment wasn’t enacted as some sort of federal power grab, as Akin suggests. Rather the call for the Amendment was driven largely by state legislatures and only one state, Utah, voted against it.
The 17th Amendment was adopted in no small part because state legislatures were caught selling seats or were unable to fill them because of electoral deadlocks. And in case Akin doesn’t think corruption or incompetence would be a problem for today’s state lawmakers, he need only look at Rod Blagojevich or the failures of a variety of state legislatures to disabuse himself of that notion. Reformers who called for the 17th Amendment believed that it would clean up corruption and give power to the people. Akin apparently believes that power may be safer in the hands of state governments than the people.
Akin isn’t the only Republican candidate who has called for the repeal of the 17th Amendment. Other major Republicans have also come out against the 17th Amendment, including Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), and Justice Antonin Scalia.
Nevertheless, Akin’s main Republican rivals distanced themselves from him on the 17th Amendment. State Treasurer Sarah Steelman said she is favor of direct election of senators and implied that she worries about the kind of interests that would have influence if the state legislature chose Senators. Similarly, businessman John Brunner is also in favor of direct election of senators and said he is “highly sympathetic to the whole concept of the 17th Amendment, and doing everything we can to bring the power back to the people.”