We don’t need special elections to replace senators

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.

10 thoughts on “We don’t need special elections to replace senators

  1. Doug Ross

    “A better idea than Rep. Quinn’s would be to let the Legislature choose an interim senator”

    Also known as “The Inmates Running the Asylum” option.

    I mean they picked a winner like Lillian McBride based on her obvious skills… I’m 100% confident there would be no backroom dealings, patronage, or political payback involved in the process. That’s why I believe in Santa Claus, too.

  2. bud

    Senators were supposed to represent states, not groups of voters like House members.
    -Brad

    A STATE is really nothing but a group of voters that happen to reside in a long-ago determine geographic entity that long ago had nothing to do with the people who happent to occupy the land in question. Does it really make any sense to grant some special consideration based on state lines? Seems like an anachronism to me. Let’s just do away with the senate completely and re-draw congressional lines that reflect some sense of community interests. Not sure why we need two legislative bodies to begin with.

  3. bud

    It’s easy to pick on the one county that failed in the election process. 45 others succeeded.

    Having said that it does seem puzzling why Senator Jackson continues to defend McBride. Unless I’m missing something it seems like her only real job was to get enough functional voting machines in place to hold and election. Maybe it’s a complex process although on the surface it doesn’t seem to be that complicated. Just go down the list of precincts and count the number of voters. Do some arithmatic based on the an established formula. Obtain the necessary machines. Have them tested well in advance of election day to ensure that they work. Put the machines in place with a few backups in case some go down. Make sure everyone is trained to operate the machines. Be sure maintenance folks are on call in case of problems. Then let the voting begin. How hard can this be?

  4. Tim

    I don’t mind the Governor picking, but it should be with Advice and Consent of the Senate. That is a well established precedent.

  5. Jason

    Bud if you did away with ever anachronism in American life, you would have to rewrite the government every six months or so.

  6. Steve Gordy

    If there’s one thing South Carolina doesn’t need any more of, it’s more political backscratching. Jim Harrison may be well qualified to head the Legislative Council, but the other thousand people in this state who could do an equally good job never get considered. It’s antics like this that make me wish a pox on everybody’s house.

  7. Brad

    But see, Steve, I don’t think there are 1,000 people out there who are as qualified for the job as Harrison. If I were a lawmaker — pleased with the job Harrison had done as Judiciary Chairman (which most lawmakers seem to be) it’s highly unlikely that anyone could have inspired the same trust taking over the job of writing my bills for me.

    It’s not wrong to have a comfort level with someone based on experience with that person. It just isn’t.

    This was a political appointment — that’s what it was SUPPOSED to be. It’s not a classified position. It was like the governor picking a member of her own staff, for instance. There wasn’t anything unseemly or untoward or unfair about going with the guy they felt best about for the job. We might have a beef if we thought he was unqualified for the job he’ll be paid to do. But I haven’t heard anyone suggest that.

  8. Steve Gordy

    Brad, you’ve put your finger on precisely the problem. “This was a political appointment – that’s what it was SUPPOSED to be.” We in the provinces sometimes get tired of Columbia telling the rest of us that it requires unique skills and connections (not available to everyone else) to compete for such jobs. Notice I said “compete,” not “be awarded.”

  9. Ralph Hightower

    Will SC Governot Nikki Haley appoint Darla Moore for the Demint Senate seat?

    Probably not since she didn’t donate millions of dollars to Haley’s campaign, or even a few thousand dollars like that “no name” lawyer that replaced her on the USC Board of Trustees.

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