Now, 100 years later, a group of Georgia state representatives would like to repeal the 17th Amendment and return the election of senators to the state legislatures, a move they feel would restore the intent of the Founding Fathers.
House Resolution 273 was authored by District 18 Rep. Kevin Cooke, R-Carrollton, to request that the U.S. Congress begin action to repeal the 17th Amendment. The process would require a two-thirds approval by both the U.S. House and Senate, then ratification by at least three-quarters of the states. Political pundits give the move little chance of success.
In addition to Cooke, other sponsors listed on the resolution include: District 68 Rep. Dustin Hightower, R-Carrollton; District 25 Rep. Mike Dudgeon, R-Johns Creek; District 157 Rep. Delvis Dutton, R-Glennville; District 102 Rep. Buzz Brockway, R-Lawrenceville; and District 98 Rep. Josh Clark, R-Buford.
Cooke introduced a similar House resolution in 2010, but it never made it out of committee for a House floor vote.
“It’s a way we would again have our voice heard in the federal government, a way that doesn’t exist now,” Cooke said Monday afternoon. “This isn’t an idea of mine. This was what James Madison was writing. This would be a restoration of the Constitution, about how government is supposed to work.”
Cooke said the election of U.S. Senators by state legislatures was what Madison intended to give the states a check on the federal government, based on state sovereignty and ability of states to govern themselves.
“The fact that this coincides with the 100th anniversary gives us a pretty good snapshot of what has happened to the federal government since then,” he said. “The federal government has grown exponentially since the amendment was ratified. This would restore the constitution to what it was in 1913.”
Cooke said that other state legislatures are working on similar resolutions and former Georgia U.S. Sen. Zell Miller, a Democrat, proposed a similar measure in his last year in office.
Dr. Robert Sanders, University of West Georgia political science professor, said the reason the 17th Amendment was passed was to stop widespread corruption that was rampant in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
“There was a lot of corruption from interest groups who were buying state legislators,” Sanders said. “The legislators were easy to buy out and the interest groups could get who they wanted for U.S. Senators.”
He called the current move to appeal the amendment “a step backwards” and “a step by one party to find another way to stay in power by circumventing the process.”
Sanders said he feels the resolution has little chance to make it through the Georgia General Assembly, let alone Congress.
“I can’t see any democratic person allowing this to happen,” he said. “It’s just an antiquated way to hold on to power.”
However, Cooke said he doesn’t believe corruption would be a problem in this current era.
“It’s the responsibility of each and every citizen to make sure of who gets elected to office, that they’re principled people,” he said. “You can look at the current state of ethics and transparency. Anybody has the ability to look at money being donated to campaigns. It would keep anything from being done out of the public eye.”
Dudgeon, although signed on as a sponsor, admits the resolution is a “long shot,” but added that it’s a conversation that needs to be had.
“The way we choose our Senators and the super-giant expansion of the federal government makes it something so important that it needs to be said,” he said. “We had the same resolution two years ago when I started in the General Assembly. It didn’t make it to a vote. It’s hard to get to a vote because a lot of people don’t understand the history behind it and the connection between the states having no representation in Washington. The federal government has taken over all the powers that used to be left to the states, because the Senate doesn’t represent the states anymore.”
Dudgeon said that, as for corruption, we have a different kind of corruption now with millions of dollars of lobbying money and influence at the national level.
Speaking on the type of corruption that brought about the passage of the 17th Amendment, Dudgeon said, “With all the news coverage and blogs we have now, that kind of corruption would be hard to exist, like it was 100 years ago. What was the cure of 1913 is now worse than the disease.”
In a posting to the Peach Pundit blog site, Dudgeon said, “In some ways, states have become giant departments of the federal government. All the big benefit programs like Medicaid, welfare, and now 'Obamacare,' are left to the states to somehow make them work. A Senate that represented the states would be so much more reluctant to go along with these giant expansions.”
However, he admitted, “Is [the bill] a long shot? – absolutely.”