Rick Quinn has an idea that sounds good — especially under circumstances that empower Nikki Haley to make the decision unilaterally — but I can’t go for it:
S.C. Rep. Rick Quinn (R-Lexington) today submitted legislation for pre-filing to change the way vacancies are filled for the office of United States Senator. If enacted, the bill would require a Special Election to be held to fill any future vacancies. To explain his legislation, Rep. Quinn released the following statement:
“This proposed legislation is not intended in any way as a criticism of Governor Haley or any of the outstanding leaders she is apparently considering for appointment to the United States Senate. I am certain they would all do a fine job.
My concern is the lack of public involvement in the process of selecting a person to fill a vacancy in the United States Senate. The present system allows a governor to pick a replacement for up to two full years before any votes are cast.
No one person should be able to select a U.S. Senator for the over four million citizens of South Carolina. When we vote for our United States Senator, it is one of the most important electoral decisions we make. One person should not be empowered to appoint that position for such an extended period of time.
An incumbent United States Senator has a huge advantage. Not only can incumbents raise far more money than challengers but also the bully pulpit gives incumbents a forum unavailable to those who might run in the future. It is a simple reality that money and media access dominate the modern election process.
The present system gives an appointed Senator what may well amount to an overwhelming advantage before an election is held. That is why all candidates for the office should start from a level playing field as soon as possible when a vacancy occurs. This gives the voters more choices and a more decisive role in choosing their next U.S. Senator.
The need for change is highlighted by the fact that the U.S. Senate is the only Federal office handled in this non-democratic manner. In fact, if the Governor appoints any of the current elected officials on her short list, the law would require an immediate special election to fill those vacancies.
Looking around the nation, many states have gone to a special election process to fill vacancies in the U.S. Senate. Today, fourteen states would call for an immediate special election. Under current South Carolina law, a special election would take sixteen weeks to conduct.
Unexpected vacancies happen from time to time. It’s part of life. Any way we fill those vacancies will have flaws. But we must not dilute the people’s right to choose their representation at the ballot box. It is a fundamental right in our American system of governance. “
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The Framers of our system intended for each constituent part of our government — the House, the Senate, the president and vice president, the judiciary — to be balanced in a number of ways, including having very different methods of selection, meaning they answer to very different constituencies.
Senators were supposed to represent states, not groups of voters like House members. We made the Senate more like the House when we passed the 17th Amendment — although they are still elected by all of the voters of a state, rather than the voters of narrow districts, which is something. I have yet to be convinced that was an improvement.
A better idea than Rep. Quinn’s would be to let the Legislature choose an interim senator. That would return us to the original idea, and it would address the problem Rick is too polite to confront, which is having a U.S. senator being chosen on the basis of Nikki Haley’s political priorities.
But there’s no question that Rick’s idea would be more popular than mine.