Sen. Frank Niceley has introduced legislation that would change the way U.S. Senate candidates are nominated. Instead of party primaries, each of the party's legislative caucuses would nominate a candidate to run for Senate in an open meeting. Under his bill (SB471), the House and Senate Republican joint caucus
would choose the Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate and the House and Senate Democratic joint caucus would choose the
This would be constitutional. The Constitution does not require party primaries and the Courts have given the states a wide latitude in how candidates are nominated.
I like this proposal. I for one do not think that greater direct democracy makes for a better republic. Should the State legislature pick the nominee for Senate, then once elected the Senator would likely be more inclined to consider the impact on his State before voting for unfunded mandates and other legislation that burdens the state. He would be more likely to seek the advice of members of his party who are serving in the State legislature. Who gets elected to the State legislature would become more important to voters. While subtle, this would be a slight strengthening of State influence. It would also save a lot of money.
Last election, the Democrats nominated Mark Clayton, a fringe right-wing candidate who had no credentials or experience. He beat Bob Corker in Memphis and came close in Nashville. It was an embarrassment for the Democrats. Not that I mind Democrats being embarrassed, but it was also an embarrassment for the people of Tennessee. I think it would be better for the democratic process to have a qualified mainstream candidate who is representative of his party present a challenge to our nominee than to give our nominee a free ride. Democracy is strengthened when people have real choices. Mark Clayton would not have happened if the House and Senate Democratic Caucus was picking the nominee.
Actually, I would like to see the 17th Amendment abolished and have the State Legislature select our Senators as was the case from our founding until 1913. The 17th Amendment was a shift in the balance of power between the State and the Federal government and resulted in the diminished importance of the States. Since I doubt the 17th Amendment will be repealed anytime soon, then a bill like Senator Niceley's is the next best thing we can hope for.