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Opening Arguments

Three radical ideas

This seems to be the day for radical political ideas. First we have Alec MacGillis, a senior editor at the New Republic, who wants to do away with mid-term elections:

The two-year term requires new House members to start their fundraising for the next election as soon as they arrive in Washington. This winnows the pool of candidates — and not in a good way. “The skill of telemarketing does not translate very often into the skill of governing, so there are real implications for the kind of people you get on the other end,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), formerly of the House, observed last year.

[. . .]

Yes, the founders believed that frequent elections would give House members, as James Madison put it, “immediate dependence on, and an intimate sympathy with, the people.” But there’s not much responsiveness to the public when more than 90 percent of House incumbents win their races.

So, onward with a constitutional amendment to expand House terms to four years. Voters would still be able to express midterm sentiments in elections for Senate and governors’ offices. Meanwhile, Washington could get back to work.

And we have indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller, who wants a "soft repeal" of the 17th Amendment:

INDIANAPOLIS — U.S. Senate candidates in Indiana would be nominated by the General Assembly instead of selected by voters in a primary if the state’s top legal officer has his way.

Attorney General Greg Zoeller says a “soft repeal” of the 17th Amendment would revive the idea that U.S. senators are ambassadors of a state’s government and not free agents.

“If they had to come back … and get renominated each six-year cycle, they’ll be less likely to pass statutes that stuck it to states,” Zoeller told The Times in Munster (http://bit.ly/1iEy7Dc ). “Would we have an unfunded mandate if they had to come back and explain it to members of the Legislature?”

Zoeller’s proposal is a twist on the tea party’s call for a full repeal of the 17th Amendment. States’ rights conservatives say that since the amendment passed in 1913, the federal government has come to view states as entities it controls instead of as the co-equal sovereigns envisioned under the U.S. Constitution.

Each of the proposals can be debated on its own merits, but imagine how less responsive to the people Congress would be if both of them were acted on. Representatives who didn't have to campaign every two years would have a lot fewer town hall meetings, I think. Senators beholden to state legislatures aren't as likely to take all citizens' views into account.

I certainly agree with Zoeller that the relationship between the federal and state governments has changed, to the detriment of states. I'm just not sure this is the right way to tackle it.

And, finally, we have the momentum building for a state-led constitutional convention, a movement Indiana has been in the vanguard of, thanks to state Senate President Pro Tem David Long. He is among the organizers of a meeting in Indianapolis in June to which delgates from all 50 states have been invited.

Long said he expects The Mount Vernon Assembly will meet a third time later this year to tweak and finalize the decisions it makes at the Indianapolis session. Then state legislatures in 2015 can begin sending identical resolutions to Congress requesting a Convention of the States.

He said the topic of the first proposed amendment likely will be a requirement for a balanced federal budget or some other plan to rein in the national debt.

"We need something to change and this is, I think, the only way it's going to happen — the states are going to have to take charge," Long said.

That's the one I think we should keep an eye on. The worse Washington excess gets, the stronger this movement is going to become. It's clear the professional politicians there (of both parties) have no interest in cleaning up the mess they've made. If they won't, we can.