January 25th, 2009
05:05 PM ET
8 months ago

Senator: End Blagojevich-type appointments

Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold says he plans to introduce an amendment banning governors from appointing senators.
Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold says he plans to introduce an amendment banning governors from appointing senators.

WASHINGTON (CNN) - First it was the uproar over the appointment by Illinois Gov. Roy Blagojevich of former state attorney general Roland Burris to fill President Barack Obama's remaining term in the Senate.

Then, New York Gov. David Paterson appointed Democratic Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand to the Senate seat now vacated by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton - creating a political circus over why Caroline Kennedy was given the cold shoulder.

Now, Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wisconsin, says, enough is enough.

On Sunday, Feingold, said he plans to introduce an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to end appointments to the Senate by governors. Feingold, who is the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, will advocate a special election instead.

“The controversies surrounding some of the recent gubernatorial appointments to vacant Senate seats make it painfully clear that such appointments are an anachronism that must end," he said in a press release.

He added: "In 1913, the Seventeenth Amendment to the Constitution gave the citizens of this country the power to finally elect their senators. They should have the same power in the case of unexpected mid-term vacancies, so that the Senate is as responsive as possible to the will of the people."

Feingold plans to introduce the amendment this week.

soundoff (365 Responses)
  1. Karen

    States are in debt and special elections do cost money, but it isn't just governors who line their pockets with special interest dollars and perks. You will find that plenty of people in the state legislatures are willing to take those same dollars and perks. Until we end the power of the special interests with laws that are enforced, the American people can expect to be sold out.

    January 25, 2009 06:50 pm at 6:50 pm |
  2. Teachnator

    "John Boehner is a liar trying to incite violence from the ultra right wing...… people who are aliterate."

    "illiterate", you moron. Thank you for proving a point about Democratic sheep.

    January 25, 2009 06:52 pm at 6:52 pm |
  3. Justin

    Humnm, Russ Feingold may... be on the right track, but I do have an absolute solution for senator Feingold, if he really insists on amending the constitution which is ok to do. Well here is the the perfect solution for all to be happy for... " A seating governor must appoint ONLY a different party candidate for the senate seat (Any other party affiliation other than his own)". for example: a democrat governor must appoint ONLY a republican OR any third party candidate (like Libertarian, Independent and so forth...) to the senate seat period. This will absolutely remove all controversial doubts. Then again, all the CNN, FOX, ABC... and World's reporters won't have much of a job to cover later on. We'll all be back to watching TIC TAC TOE or somthing... ;-)

    January 25, 2009 06:52 pm at 6:52 pm |
  4. Lisbon

    The tool Feingold would not have said a word if the NY appointment had been a hard left radical with a hint of a moustache on her upper lip.

    And Sue, your booing at the inaugural was disgusting. I suppose when you and your lord and savior Obama get your "national defense" corp in place, a la Magabe, you will straighten us fascists out. Pox on you and the jack arse you rode to town on.

    January 25, 2009 06:53 pm at 6:53 pm |
  5. Kirk

    Toby in Illinois and Allen – so take democracy out of the hands of the citizens and give Senatorial elections back to the state legislatures? (By the way Toby, we still use the electoral college and there really are people called "electors" that we elect – we just never hear about them because they rarely – if ever – go against the will of the people).

    As far as that idea go's (appointment of all Senators), how does that eliminate special interest influence? That is why we adopted the 17th amendment in the first place! Bribery, corruption and special deals among state lawmakers to get the person they wanted for Senator!

    January 25, 2009 06:53 pm at 6:53 pm |
  6. Eli

    Are you people kidding with his idea of going back to the days when backroom legislature dealing gave us our Senators. You want to talk about a political circus??

    The 17th Amendment should be improved so that all Senators are not appointed but elected in much the same way as the House of Representatives when vacancies occur.

    AND.. While we're at it... Can we get rid of this ridiculous Electoral College? We had to put up with 8 years of failure because of 537 votes in Florida, despite the over 400,000 people nationwide who voted for Al Gore over George W Bush. We Need A National Popular Vote Amendment!!

    January 25, 2009 06:54 pm at 6:54 pm |
  7. Times Change

    17th Amendment came about because of State Senates being corrupt. Now is our age Governors are corrupt or, as Daley puts it, cuckoo. The Constitution is a living document will need being tweaked and it is time for such a change. If it takes going to the People to ratify a change, why can't they also vote for a Senator. The rules are in place for Representatives being voted by special election, nothing there is new or needs changing.

    January 25, 2009 06:55 pm at 6:55 pm |
  8. Frank in Wilton Manors

    Good idea or bad, why all the fuss? You'll never get the required number of states to ratify the Constitution on this.

    January 25, 2009 06:55 pm at 6:55 pm |
  9. DLF

    Some here have said that it is expensive to have a special election.

    Well, should we just simply do away with all elections because they are expensive?

    The right for the people to choose a replacement for Senator or anyone in government is priceless.

    And that means do away with the electoral college as well!

    January 25, 2009 06:55 pm at 6:55 pm |
  10. Caroline

    Toby In Illinois:

    What do you mean "back into the hands of the Electoral College", it's ALWAYS been the Electoral College's responsibility to elect the President. That's how Gore "lost" in 2000, he had the popular vote but not the Electoral College's.

    Here's some food for thought: I think the Electoral College should be based on how many people in that state ACTUALLY VOTED rather than the number of people populating the state.

    January 25, 2009 06:56 pm at 6:56 pm |
  11. John

    I agree with Allen, the 17th amendment should be repealed. The original reasons for its adoption were vague and varied. Among them were to reduce corruption, reduce the amount of money spent in becoming a senator, fix the issues with states not sending enough senators for a quorom, and reduce the influence of lobbyists (James Madison didn't think direct election would reduce influence of special interests, very much the opposite infact - looks like he was right) . Only the quorom issue was solved, the other issues are arguably much worse.

    The less dramatic change offered should have been tried first to fix the deadlocks caused by states not sending senators. That is legislation that would have allowed state legislatures to elect senators with a plurality. Lets repeal the 17th and try that instead, lets restore balance to our federal republic.

    January 25, 2009 06:58 pm at 6:58 pm |
  12. Jeff Spangler, Arlington, VA

    A constitutional amendment as a remedy for the Blagojevich matter is clearly legislative overkill, and is wholly unmerited by the Gillilbrand designation. Fortunately, most amendments are never adopted.

    January 25, 2009 06:58 pm at 6:58 pm |
  13. Vincent O'Brien

    Thank god for Russ Feingold. With this news he is just strengthening how much admiration I hold for him.

    Also, Allen and Toby, I think those ideas are most definitely the wrong way to go. If anything, we should be moving to more direct democracy. The electoral college is what gave us George W. Bush when we voted for Vice President Al Gore by over half a million votes, something no recount would have changed. Should we really give more power to a system that directly goes against the will of the American people (and 8 years later I have to say definitely not for the better either)? And how is letting state legislatures appoint U.S. Senators going to combat special interests at all? If anything, it will just strengthen their influence because they'll just commit their resources into the state legislatures so they'll directly appoint favorable candidates, not the other way around. I mean, if that process had been in place in 1930's/40's Louisiana, Huey Long would control about every bit of that state, not just the majority that he did already, because he directly controlled much of the state legislature.

    January 25, 2009 06:58 pm at 6:58 pm |
  14. fj from ATL

    Now lets all relax. This is one of those strange political year. Otherwise, this has never been a big issue in the past. No need to change the constitution.

    January 25, 2009 06:59 pm at 6:59 pm |
  15. lonnie

    with the cost of elections these days being ridiculous, this amendment is folly. Special interest will always have a play in most political decisions these days, so an argument to that effect is moot. The only "circus" that came about, in the case of blagojevich, was from the senate itself trying to overstep its bounds and over rule the will of a state, and in the case of caroline kennedy people thinking she is either entitled or not "qualified" (the constitution clearly states the qualifications needed).....We need to stop trying to amend the constitution over such trivial (and opinionated) situations.....an amendment should be a LAST resort, not a first thought

    January 25, 2009 06:59 pm at 6:59 pm |
  16. Obama 2.0

    I agree, return the process back to "We the People" please. I will write to ny congress people to push for the change also.

    Folks please take 5 minutes and do the same look up your Senators for your state online and go to the contact page and tell them to change the process. No more one person/Governor apointments. Let US choose by elections.

    January 25, 2009 07:00 pm at 7:00 pm |
  17. BluesBrother

    I'd like to see the end of the electorial college, It was put in at a time when few were literate, to ensure the "right man" was chosen. Time to make the peoples votes really count.

    January 25, 2009 07:01 pm at 7:01 pm |
  18. Obama 2.0

    SEG,
    The constitution provokes two schools of thought.

    1. What to think
    2. How to think

    I choose the latter.

    January 25, 2009 07:02 pm at 7:02 pm |
  19. Kerk

    From the US Constitution, 17th Amendment:

    When vacancies happen in the representation of any State in the Senate, the executive authority of such State shall issue writes of election to fill such vacancies: Provided, That the legislature of any State may empower the executive thereof to make temporary appointments utnil the people fill the vacancies by election as the legislature may direct.

    The governor is already required to issue writs of election to fill the spot. Did the legislature empower him to fill the spot temporarily? If not, then what is being done is already unconstitutional. If it isn't temporary until such election, it is again unconstitutional. Adding more amendments, laws, etc. without any action to uphold them is irrelevant.

    Without intending any hint of sarcasm, I would suggest becoming familiar with our current Constitution before advocating changes that wouldn't change one iota of the current Supreme Law of the Land.

    January 25, 2009 07:04 pm at 7:04 pm |
  20. Wrong Name

    His name, despite the opening of this article, is actually "Rod" not "Roy". That said, I agree – if you don't want governors to be able to appoint whomever they wish take the power away.

    January 25, 2009 07:04 pm at 7:04 pm |
  21. Lost in Texas FOREVER

    I'm sure this will go along party lines as to WHICH seat is open and who has a chance to fill it. Like the Dems in ILL. didn't want to have an election risking losing the seat to the GOP, I can see this also occuring if it were the other way around.

    January 25, 2009 07:04 pm at 7:04 pm |
  22. Minnesotan

    Excellent proposal, Mr. Feingold! Change the rules; fix the system; and keep the Republicans from taking unfair advantage of loopholes like this! Great Job!

    January 25, 2009 07:08 pm at 7:08 pm |
  23. Vincent O'Brien

    And if we never amended the Constitution, we wouldn't have the Bill of Rights, Slavery would still be legal, African-Americans and Women could not legally vote, there would still be a poll-tax, and African-Americans would still not be considered full citizens. To progress as a society, we must amend the Constitution to fit firmly in the times in which we live. The Founding Fathers knew this, and that is why they included the ability into the original document.

    January 25, 2009 07:09 pm at 7:09 pm |
  24. moo

    Does it really happen so often that this is a big deal?

    January 25, 2009 07:09 pm at 7:09 pm |
  25. Patrick

    This is inane- what happens in the interim between the election and the vacancy? So a Senate seat will be vacant, providing half the representation a state should have in the time that it'd take to put together a fair special election? Conversely, if an election were to be put together in mere weeks, then it's not about the political positions of the candidates, but more about which grabs the media spotlight first and holds it longest. Can governors be crooked? Sure- but then why did the state elect them? These senators aren't being appointed for life- they're being appointed to fill the remainder of a term. Don't call for a special election to be put together slapdash, if you don't want the governors doing it, have the State Legislature do it- at least them the decision can be made quickly and it'll have some debate.

    I can't see any issue with Paterson's appointment- it shouldn't have been Kennedy; she wasn't ready. The issue with Blagojevitch was that the Democratic leadership in the Senate and the State Legislature thought that he was going to play ball nicely and not appoint anybody; he clearly called their bluff and exposed it as simply a bluff. If the leadership had really wanted to avoid an incident, they should have just called for a special election, but they wanted to keep a Democrat in the seat for certain. If these things are handled in a sober and mature manner, there is no hysterium- the craziness comes when the circus comes to town.

    Here's a better idea than amending the Constitution: electing morally trustworthy public officials.

    January 25, 2009 07:11 pm at 7:11 pm |
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