Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet, who was appointed earlier this year to fill the term of Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, opposes a proposed constitutional amendment debated before a congressional committee Wednesday to require special elections to fill Senate vacancies. Colorado’s junior senator wants to leave it to the states to decide how to fill vacancies, a Bennet spokesman told The Colorado Independent.
Sen. Russ Feingold, a Wisconsin Democrat, introduced the proposed amendment in January after scandal rocked the appointment to fill President Barack Obama’s Senate seat in Illinois. Feingold said it wasn’t aimed at any particular state’s troubles.
“I really became troubled when I realized that such a significant percentage of the U.S. Senate was about to be appointed rather than elected by the people,” Feingold told the New York Times on Tuesday. “I think of it as a right-to-vote issue.”
Four senators — all Democrats, including Salazar, Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — quit the Senate after the 2008 election to take places in the new administration. A fifth senator, Republican Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, flirted with creating a vacancy to become secretary of commerce but eventually stayed put.
Under the 17th Amendment, added to the Constitution in 1913, voters assumed the right to elect senators, who had previously been appointed by state legislatures. States set the rules to fill vacancies — some, including Wisconsin, require special elections, but most vest the power with governors. A proposal to require special elections to fill Senate vacancies in Colorado died last month in the State Legislature.
From Bennet spokesman Michael Amodeo:
Michael does not support Senator Feingold’s amendment because he believes the states are best suited to determine the appropriate framework for filling these vacancies.
Moreover, Senator Feingold’s amendment would place the burden of paying for these federally-mandated special elections on cash-strapped state taxpayers – unfunded mandates should not be placed in the United States Constitution.
Here’s the text of Feingold’s proposed amendment:
Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States relative to the election of Senators.
Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled (two-thirds of each House concurring therein), That the following article is proposed as an amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which shall be valid to all intents and purposes as part of the Constitution when ratified by the legislatures of three-fourths of the several States within seven years after the date of its submission by the Congress:
`Section 1. No person shall be a Senator from a State unless such person has been elected by the people thereof. When vacancies happen in the representation of any State in the Senate, the executive authority of such State shall issue writs of election to fill such vacancies.
`Section 2. This amendment shall not be so construed as to affect the election or term of any Senator chosen before it becomes valid as a part of the Constitution.’.