Yesterday many Wisconsinites found out that US Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) is planning to propose an addition to the US Constitution in the form of an amendment. The amendment would require all states to have what I'd like to call "vacancy" elections. Basically, whenever a House or Senate member would accept a position or step down for God-knows-what reason, the Governor of their particular state would not be able to place his choice of individual as a replacement. This amendment sparked Feingold's fancy after several US Senators, including Sens Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and Ken Salazar (D-CO) have been placed in positions within the Executive Branch. To top it off, both President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden were both US Senators, from Illinois and Delaware, respectively.
The issue Feingold is wrangling with is certainly a noble one. President Obama's replacement is perhaps the most controversial in the history of US Senate replacements. Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich (D) is accused of selling the seat and is facing several charges from the feds on this matter. After the Illinois legislature couldn't make up their decision on the future of the seat, Blago took matters into his own hands and simply appointed someone to the seat...as he would have originally done without a scandal. In many (if not all) states, it's solely up to the Governor for replacements; the people don't elect (or in this case, re-elect) the individual until the term of the former is up. What Feingold wants is immediate elections for those seats. Naturally, these would be special elections that perhaps would have a term limited to the remainder of the tenure the resigned legislator would have had.
After reading the above, I'm sure most of you would find that fine and reasonable. Heck, even I don't seem to have that big of issue with Feingold's intentions. However, I do have a problem with the concept of adding it as an amendment to the United States Constitution.
When I went to school and learned in-depth about history, it was repeated over and over again that amendments to the Constitution were extremely important. These amendments at times took years, even tens of years, to finally be added onto our most coveted piece of laws. Any amendment in the Constitution needed a minimum 2/3 vote from Congress and 2/3 of the states to be made official. From this perspective, because of this I'll argue that it takes a lot of discussion and deep thought before something like an amendment should be considered. Even with that done, however, I still have another conflict with this proposal. Perhaps this is the time when some of my liberal or Democratic friends will question my true political nature, but hey - - it is what it is.
Personally, I feel any legislation regarding the replacement of elected officials should be decided by each state independently. There shouldn't be a blanketed federal law on an issue like this. There are reasons why we have Governors. When we go to the voting booths on those election days, we cast our ballots for the individual we believe will govern our state with dignity, honor, and respect. We put our faith and trust in that individual to carry out the will of the electors. Unfortunately, there are times when the people certainly question the decisions made by that individual while in office. There are also times when those individuals violate the law, which give the people and the elected members in the state legislature to impeach the individual and remove him/her from office. This is a rarity, especially during times when the Governor is in the middle of a resigned Senator and about to name a replacement.
There's the saying, "one bad apple spoils the bunch". I tend to agree with this saying many, many times. It would be unfortunate for me to say it on this occasion, though. Yes, we had a rash of US Senators resign their posts for offices in Obama's administration. Yes, several replacements have been controversial. However, there have been instances like this in the past, and if the selected individual didn't work out as the Governor intended, the people vote him/her out of office when the term is up. If the people in states like Illinois or New York want to elect their replacement Congressman or Senator, then they should stand up and flood the Illinois or New York State Capitols with phone calls, e-mails, and letters to their legislators. If residents in Wisconsin feel the law should be modified or changed to have special elections in the case of a resigning member of the House or Senate, then they should also do what was said in the previous sentence.
The federal government doesn't need to be a consistent babysitter for individual states. Just because one or two states have a ruffle in their feathers shouldn't mean the other 48 now have to go through a change in their state laws, too.
Senator Feingold is correct in making a statement that perhaps the argument should come up right about now as to whether or not special elections should be held. In my opinion though, he's using the wrong venue to make those discussions happen. Those discussions need to happen in newspaper editorials and in the "Ted's Take" of TV news and in the State Capitols throughout the United States. Not in the Constitution itself.