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May 10, 2014

Editorial: Leave 17th Amendment alone, let voters do their jobs

Zoeller’s idea not right for Indiana

TERRE HAUTE — It goes without saying that members of the Indiana General Assembly are empowered to make state-based decisions affecting Hoosier citizens.

But should those same legislators usurp the 101-year-old authority of the state’s voters and be the sole body to select the candidates who would run against each other for the position of U.S. senator?

Should the General Assembly pick and choose which Republican and which Democrat should run for U.S. senator in the General Election, taking that nominating choice away from voters?

If you say yes to that proposition, you agree with Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller, who late last month told a northern Indiana newspaper that he believes the legislature should select U.S. Senate candidates and then still allow voters to choose between the nominees. The difference is that voters would not choose the nominees for each party.

That, it seems to us, would effectively replace a primary election for U.S. senator, in which Republican A is elected over Republican B and Democrat C is elected over Democrat D. You know, the way most elections work.

Zoeller, as have other conservatives across the country, advocates a so-called “soft repeal” of the 17th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution — an alteration to the original document, which was declared adopted by Secretary of State William Jennings Bryant in 1913 after the necessary two-thirds of the states had ratified the measure.

(Indiana was the 24th state to have ratified, Illinois the 21st, just six days earlier in February 1913. Only two states rejected the change.)

The 17th Amendment establishes the direct election of U.S. senators by popular vote in each state. The original Constitution called for senators to be chosen by state legislatures.

The argument Zoeller advances, as he told the Times of Northwest Indiana, is that U.S. senators would be more accountable. “If they (senators) have to come back ... and get renominated each six-year cycle, they’ll be less likely to pass statutes that stuck it to the states.”

But, of course, senators already have to meet that test of accountability every six years. It’s called standing for re-election, justifying one’s record to the voters, running in a primary and defeating one’s opponents.

By and large, that works well in doing the will of the electorate.

Even when the electorate chooses poorly, idealistically at least, it is the people’s choice. We fear that a process of state legislators selecting candidates would infuse only more political and lobbying influence into the process.  

Our electoral process can always be improved, but the model of voters selecting candidates to run against each other is better than the one Zoeller curiously espouses. He has deserved citizen support for several of his actions in the time he has been in office, but this is one that the public should reject.

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