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October 2014 Policy Study, Number 14-6

   

Should We Restore Bicameralism?

   

More Accountable for the States

   

 

Allowing the legislative caucuses to select the parties’ nominees would once again allow states to hold the federal government more accountable because senators would view the states as the constituents and act in their states’ interests.  Viewing states as constituents would help ensure that senators did not pass legislation that would impose unfunded mandates on states, force state officials to act at the federal government’s direction, or infringe on traditional state police powers.[37] As representatives of both the people and the states, senators would have the ability and obligation to pass legislation that benefits the people in a way that does not harm the states.

 

Although the agency relationship would not be as direct as in the pre-17th Amendment era, the relationship would likely be stronger than in the 17th Amendment era because a senator who failed to consider his or her state’s interests when deciding how to vote on legislation would risk losing the party’s nomination in the next election.

 

It would also re-establish a greater degree of true bicameralism in Congress because the members of each house would be selected through different processes and would have to answer  to different constituents, i.e., members of the House would answer to the people while senators would answer to both their state legislature and the people.

 

Legislative nomination would also reduce the amount of influence that interest groups could exercise over senators because senators would no longer need to raise as much money for campaigns.  Before the 17th Amendment was ratified, special interests had to successfully lobby a majority of state legislators to support a particular United States Senate candidate before they could exert direct influence over the senator.  The special interests would need to spread their resources around to influence a majority of legislative leaders or at least the swing voters or influential legislators.[38] In the current 17th Amendment era, special interest groups only need to influence the individual senate candidate,[39] which they can do by providing or withholding campaign contributions during the primary and general elections. The pre-17th Amendment process therefore forced the special interests to spend more time and money than the post 17th Amendment process.

 

Currently, special interest groups contribute millions of dollars to primary election campaigns, but considerably less money to nominating processes such as conventions.[40] Amending Indiana’s statute would not completely eliminate the special interests’ influence over senators because the interests would still be able to contribute to the candidates’ general election campaigns.  But it would appear to have the likely effect of reducing their influence because the candidates would no longer need to raise large sums of capital in order to wage expensive primary campaigns.  Senators would also be less susceptible to special interest influence once in office because the senators would risk not being re-nominated if they supported legislation that benefited special interests at the state’s expense. 

 

Legislative selection also would actually increase the number of residents who participate in the selection process.  Voter turnout is historically low in Indiana primary contests.  In the past five election cycles involving a United States Senate race, voter turnout for the primary has averaged 21 percent.[41] Even in the hotly contested 2012 primary cycle, voter turnout only reached 22 percent.[42] In contrast, voter turnout for the general election has averaged 47 percent in the past five general election cycles involving a United States Senate race, with a high of 58 percent in 2012.[43] Therefore, although Indiana residents would not directly select the parties’ nominees, amending Indiana’s statute would ensure that more residents actually participate in the selection process by voting for the individuals in the general election, state senators and representatives, who would ultimately select the parties’ nominees.

 

Finally, legislative nomination would not suffer from the gridlock that some states, including Indiana, experienced before the 17th Amendment was ratified.[44]  The pre-17th Amendment gridlocks were primarily caused by the Election Act of 1866, which required a majority of both houses to select a candidate before he could be appointed senator.[45] When different parties controlled each house, the state legislature could become deadlocked.  Under the amended statute, however, the legislative caucuses of each party would select the candidates for the general election.  Thus, regardless of which party controlled each house, the parties would still be able to advance their own candidates to the general election.  Gridlock between the House Democrat caucus and Senate Democrat caucus or between the House Republican caucus and Senate Republican caucus would not be as likely to occur as gridlock between chambers controlled by different parties.

 

In short, an amended statute would allow Indiana to enjoy some of the benefits associated with the original method of senatorial selection without depriving the people of their choice of senator.   

 

   

 

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