January 25th, 2009
05:05 PM ET
9 years ago

Senator: End Blagojevich-type appointments

[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/06/25/art.feingold.gi.jpg caption="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. elsie

    The problem isn't with the process, it is with the Govenors. Blago appears to be corrupt. The Senate seat is not the only problem with him. Peterson handled the appointment wrong. Caroline Kennedy proved to be inadaquate and not qualified. Special elections are very expensive and few voters participate. They put an unnecessary financial burden on the States and the candidates. I'm not sure what the answer is . I do believe though that the House of Representatives should do something about extending their terms of office. Two year terms are basically to short. These people are in permanent campaign mode. Why not extend it to at least four years. Let them get settled in before they have to immediately begin to have to raise money for re-election. It would give them more time to actually READ the bills before they vote on them. "Patriot Act" is a good example.

    January 25, 2009 05:44 pm at 5:44 pm |
  2. Joe M

    As for feingold's proposed amendment, it makes little sense. simply because he disagrees with who was chosen in new york does not call for an amendment. Nor does the mess in Illinois. We have to stop being reactive just because we might not like a decision, and the gov of illinois dug his own political grave. neither isntance calls for a constitutional amendment.

    January 25, 2009 05:44 pm at 5:44 pm |
  3. Mariann Pepitone

    Kirk: You are so wrong. The vacant senate seat should be filled by the governor of his choice until the term ends then have an open election.

    January 25, 2009 05:44 pm at 5:44 pm |
  4. LLT

    Sue: Wouldn't it be nice to have a media who actually followed up on politicians claims rather than iterate their lies over and over again.

    Can a system of gov't written for conditions over 250 years ago be valid for the fast moving world of today?? The British Parliamentary system used is different forms throughout the western world is much more efficient and less prone to corruption. America will continue to fall as it clings to a system that shows over and over again it does not work.

    January 25, 2009 05:46 pm at 5:46 pm |
  5. Common Sense in CA

    Feingold's got the right idea, but the wrong premise. The appointment should not be made by the governors, I agree. But if they're capable, the ex-senators should pick their replacements themselves! If they aren't capable, the decision will then come from the leader of the the candidate's political party in the candidate's state. I just don't think there's enough time to organize potential candidates for a special election, barring a media circus like the one in New York.

    January 25, 2009 05:46 pm at 5:46 pm |
  6. Kevin


    That's a dangerous proposition. The constitution was designed to be a fluid and malleable document that can change with the will of the people and change with the times. That is the genius of our fore fathers and the genius of the document.

    January 25, 2009 05:46 pm at 5:46 pm |
  7. Pam Holt Los Angeles, CA

    He's right!

    January 25, 2009 05:47 pm at 5:47 pm |
  8. Jake

    bj –

    For the most part, I think I agree with the choice not to make Caroline Kennedy Senator. I actually like her quite a bit, and I think she has done well throughout most of her life to keep a low profile and trade on the Kennedy name not for the purpose of getting into the spotlight but rather for furthering socially imporant causes that she believes in. I just think we need a break from political dynasties for a while – especially given the way the last one played out on Pennsylvania Avenue. And, in any event, I think Kirsten Gillibrand is probably ok (aside from the gun nuttery, perhaps, but I doubt she'll be able to do too much damage there in the current political environment).

    But all of this stuff about "Senatorial qualifications" is nonsense. There are no must-have "qualifications" to be Senator. If she had been appointed, she would have be a lot smarter than most of her colleagues in the legislator. And, to be honest, coming from a political family, and having interfaced continuously with government, business, and other organizations, at all levels, as part of her extensive public interest work – Caroline Kennedy would have brought some useful experience to her Senatorial career. People have come to the Senate with a similar amount of "experience" or even less and been just fine.

    Take Hillary (and ignore the dynasty point from above). There was a lot of concern (and bile) about her becoming the junior Senator from New York. And, although I like Hillary (would have preferred her to Obama for Prez), I acknowledge that there is a good argument that being a lawer, governor's wife, and first lady rendered her no more "qualified" to be a Senator than Caroline Kennedy. But, she got elected, came to the Senate, was instantly one of the nation's smarter legislators, took on leadership roles quickly, proceeded as a moderate Democrat, and, by all accounts (except those from the angry right), did a good job for New York and the nation.

    Of course certain experiences are good preparation for being a US Senator. But it is a job like no other. Everyone learns a bit as they go. Smarts are much more important – especially when, as now, the nation is not too happy with business as usual.

    Finally, quit disparaging Kemit the Frog. It's not easy being green, you know.

    January 25, 2009 05:48 pm at 5:48 pm |
  9. ex illinois man, now pennsylvanian

    I think that I would support that. This way, Democracy can work as the will of the people won't be delayed and denied for two years when an appointee people don't want is in the Senate.

    Also, a new amendment is exciting. It would be interesting and fun to see if this happens.

    January 25, 2009 05:49 pm at 5:49 pm |
  10. Joseph

    I am not entirely opposed to this amendment, I do question the states will pay for it, what we could do is actually give the power to the states, how about an amendment that states, in the case of a vacancy in the Senate or the House of Representives the states shall decide the sole way to fill it. The States will then decide if they want the governor to appoint the new senator, or rep. Or if they want a special election to do it. Frankly I wouldn't mind having it where the Governor is allowed to appoint on the advice and consent of the state legislature.

    January 25, 2009 05:49 pm at 5:49 pm |
  11. Elizabeth December

    Whoever wrote:

    January 25th, 2009 5:02 pm ET

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

    Though the word 'aliterate' does not exist, you have actually made the case that perhaps the word, which would mean 'without literacy' or non-literate, would apply to you.

    January 25, 2009 05:51 pm at 5:51 pm |
  12. ex illinois man, now pennsylvanian

    Allen. The 17th amendment is important. Do you realize how much corruption there would be without it. Congressmen make laws. Democracy calls for people to decide who gets to make their laws. We'd be depriving people of Democracy without the 17th amendment.

    January 25, 2009 05:51 pm at 5:51 pm |
  13. icstars-1

    This may make sense if there are several years left in the newly-vacant term, but if there is less than, say, 1/3 of the time remaining, it seems that an appointment might be the best option. Having said that, a constitutional change would then have not avoided the Illinois scandal. I think instead of reacting based on this year's scandal, we should first review the last few decades' worth of appointments to see if there is any ongoing issue and figure out what qualifies for a successful appointment. Popular opinion by constituents? Winning reelection?

    I like Russ, but I hate to see reactionary lawmaking, and to change our Constitution, there ought to be a much bigger problem than just one or two recent scandals.

    January 25, 2009 05:51 pm at 5:51 pm |
  14. Jake

    Absolutely NOT. The last thing we need is a kneejerk reaction to this fiasco.

    My queston: How many times in our history has this actually happened?

    January 25, 2009 05:51 pm at 5:51 pm |
  15. Anna from Milton, FL

    It is up to the state legislatures to decide if the governor can appoint or not. Really bad idea, Feingold. The legislatures will never give up their authority in order to approve this amendment (means you're wasting your precious time – work on something important!).

    Also, in light of terrorist attacks including chemical, biological, and possible suitcases with nuclear weapons, if, God forbid, the entire Congress or a large portion thereof, had to be recreated, it would already take too long to recreate the House of Representatives by waiting for elections all over the country. Now you want to make recreating the Senate time consuming as well. This could throw the entire federal government – and therefore the country – into a choatic situation for a prolonged period of time. In light of the dangers we face today, this is a really poorly thought-out idea.

    January 25, 2009 05:52 pm at 5:52 pm |
  16. Joe

    Allen: How would repealing the 17th ammendment be a blow to special interest influence? Wouldn't simply shift the lobbying from US senators to state reps, leaving less checks on it!

    SEG & BJ: That is the brilliance of the constitution – when people don't like the way it works, it gets changed! I for one would rather spend the $ on a special election, if it helps to ensure a real representative democracy. Who wants to be governed by a stagnant document?

    Mark: How would this give the Federal gov't more power? Presumably, special elections would be run just as all elections within the states are, by the states.

    January 25, 2009 05:54 pm at 5:54 pm |
  17. EBC

    Governor Blagojevich is truly THEE BAD APPLE in the basket. He's going to destroy the honor and integrity of being Governor in this country forever. It's obvious he's all about "self-destruction" at all costs.

    Hey, my things is.... if you want to hang yourself, here's more than ENOUGH rope buddy, knock yourself out!!! Clearly, here's an idiot who doesn't know when to quit while he's ahead.

    Blagojevich should have been IMPEACHED weeks ago and save the taxpayers millions!!!

    January 25, 2009 05:54 pm at 5:54 pm |
  18. Gina

    This is one of the many reasons that I love Russ Feingold so much. T

    January 25, 2009 05:55 pm at 5:55 pm |
  19. w.l. jones

    Two term limite for all Senators problm solve.

    January 25, 2009 05:55 pm at 5:55 pm |
  20. Money

    Feingold's heart is in the right place, but, as someone else mentioned, elections are enormously expensive, and some states can't afford extra elections.

    There are other solutions, like:

    – State legislature chooses the appointee

    – Governor chooses appointee, then appointee approved by the state legislature

    The main problem with the Governor alone doing it is that there is no accountability whatsoever. Getting the legislature involved prevents that.

    January 25, 2009 05:56 pm at 5:56 pm |
  21. L Jay

    Seriously!?!?! People would whine about winning the lottery.

    Everyone complains about how they have "no power" over their government and as soon as some rational individual points out an obvious flaw in the system, giving the power back to the people – more whining.

    How about giving the power back to the people, period. Maybe reminding people about their authority more often would make them more responsible and they would finally hold our government more accountable.

    January 25, 2009 05:56 pm at 5:56 pm |
  22. James

    Liberal Democrats can not even let Obama be in office for a week, before already yelling to change the Constitution. Leave our Constitution alone! And stop crying because every Democrat in the country is not a Liberal /Socialist /Communist that seeks to take the Rights of Americans away from them. I thought Kristin Gillibrand was a great choice to counter the threats to our Constitution made by Liberals!!

    January 25, 2009 05:57 pm at 5:57 pm |
  23. Latha S., Ohio

    I agree with this. In such situations, there should be an emergency special election held, even though that would be expensive. It's the only fair way.

    January 25, 2009 05:57 pm at 5:57 pm |
  24. Chase

    Thank god someone has the clarity to see that the constitution is not perfect. I fully support a special election of new senators and representatives in the even a congressmen/ woman cannot stay in their position.

    January 25, 2009 05:58 pm at 5:58 pm |
  25. Len


    I agree with you 100%. John Boehner did not tell the truth. There is no such allocation in this bill. Isn't ironic that the Republicans are now concerned about spending money, since they are responsible for this economic mess!

    January 25, 2009 06:02 pm at 6:02 pm |
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