Governor shouldn’t appoint senators

2014-03-02T00:00:00Z 2014-03-02T09:23:12Z Governor shouldn’t appoint senatorsBy Bob Brown Montana Standard
March 02, 2014 12:00 am  • 

With the departure of Senator Baucus from the Senate, Montana’s longest serving statewide elected official is Ed Smith. Never heard of him? Well, we have elected him clerk of our Supreme Court five times. Ed served as chief clerk of the Montana House of Representatives three legislative sessions and was then appointed by the legendary House Speaker Tip O’Neill to be Chief Bill Clerk of the United States House of Representatives. He has also served as President of the National Conference of Appellate Court Clerks.

His is a remarkable record that speaks for itself of his ability and competence. Ed always does a good job of doing his job. That’s why he is rarely in the news and always reelected.

The exit of Max from Montana, however, has certainly created a lot of news, much of it swirling around the appointment by Governor Steve Bullock of Lieutenant Governor John Walsh to fill the Baucus Senate vacancy. The governor has felt compelled to refute allegations that he was pressured into the Walsh appointment by U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Though the details are different, the success rate of senatorial appointees being retained by Montana voters isn’t good. In fact, it’s zero for two. The first appointee was defeated back in 1934. The most recent was Montana Supreme Court Justice Paul Hatfield, appointed senator by Governor Tom Judge to fill the vacancy created by the 1978 death of Senator Lee Metcalf. Judge was defeated in the next election, as was Hatfield by then young Rep. Max Baucus.

Montanans appear to not like having their senators appointed for them. If he wins the Democratic primary, Walsh appears to have an uphill battle on his hands against young Republican Rep. Steve Daines.

Prior to the 17th Amendment in 1913, Senators were appointed by state legislatures. “Copper King” W.A. Clark flagrantly bribed Montana legislators into electing him to the Senate in 1899. Incredibly, when an investigation forced Clark’s resignation, he finagled a gubernatorial appointment to the Senate to fill the vacancy created by his own resignation!

The Clark outrage in Montana was probably the most often nationally used example dramatizing the need for the 17th Amendment giving the people the power to directly elect their own senators.

The amendment, however, leaves up to the states whether Senate vacancies are filled by election of the people or appointment by their state’s governors. Whereas, when a vacancy occurs with a member of the House of Representatives, the Constitution requires a special election.

If we entrust the people to choose their U.S. Representatives in special elections to fill vacancies, by what logic do we prohibit them from doing so when Senate seats become vacant?

Montana should join the 14 states allowing their people the complete power to elect their senators. A bill to do this sponsored by Sen. Gary Branae, D-Billings, was defeated in the 2011 legislative session, and another by Senator Dave Wanzenried, D-Missoula, died on a tie vote in 2013. Both were supported by Montana’s Secretary of State and chief state election officer, Democrat Linda McCulloch. Ironically, most legislative Democrats opposed the legislation with all but two Montana Senate Democrats voting against Wanzenried’s bill in 2013. If Montana’s governors had wanted to rid themselves of the awkward and politically problematic senatorial appointment responsibility, either bill would have passed.

Maybe a citizen’s initiative is in order. About 24,000 signatures would have to be gathered by June 20 to place a measure giving Montana people the power to fill Senate vacancies on the fall election ballot. It would pass.

Bob Brown is a former Montana Secretary of State and State Senate President.

Copyright 2015 Montana Standard. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(9) Comments

  1. Redleg
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    Redleg - March 04, 2014 7:15 am
    U.S. Senators were originally appointed by State legislatures as the compromise between equal representation and representation based on population. Another output from that compromise was the electoral college.

    William Clark did push for the XVII Amendment because his appointment was not confirmed by the Senate. The Senate was coined the “millionaires club” because many appointees were rich, and bribed their state legislatures for the appointment.

    The XVII Amendment does state that State Governors have the responsibility to fill vacancies. Until the Montana Constitution and the XVII Amendment are changed, we must live with the choice of our elected Governor.
  2. Docwaters
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    Docwaters - March 03, 2014 12:12 pm
    Of course, that is the way the game is played.
  3. oldie
    Report Abuse
    oldie - March 03, 2014 10:39 am
    I agree with Bob Brown on this one - half way. Not only should Governors not appoint Senators, but the people shouldn't vote them in either. The Founding Fathers had it right the first time when they agreed that state legislatures should elect U.S. Senators.

    Montana played a very big part in the campaign for the Seventeenth Amendment to directly elect Senators by the people. That was when William Clark bought his Senate seat in 1900 by buying votes in the Montana Legislature. The U.S. Senate refused to sit with him because of how he did it. Then Clark promptly bought the Governor, and the Governor re-appointed him to the Senate again, and the U.S. Senate was forced to allow him in then.

    That was the impetus that was enough to carry the 17th Amendment to ratification. Anyone would think that would be a good thing. But only if you want a more powerful centralized government like the one we ended up with now.

    One of the fears our Founding Fathers had was that if Senators were elected directly by the people, then powerful special interests would be able to wrest power from the states and centralize it with the Federal government where they would be in control. That is exactly what happened. Think Citizens United, and the legalized creation of personhood for corporations if you have any doubt.

    We did it to ourselves. And Montana, and the Copper Baron, William Andrews Clark, had a lot to do with it. An awful lot. A big pit, shall we say?
  4. Drifter
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    Drifter - March 02, 2014 8:48 pm
    Republicans would do the same thing, any chance they got.
  5. zubie41
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    zubie41 - March 02, 2014 3:36 pm
    Mr. Brown; by your own research, this problem will take care of itself in the next election. Steve Daines will defeat John Walsh. Good luck with that.
  6. Docwaters
    Report Abuse
    Docwaters - March 02, 2014 1:14 pm
    This whole episode; Baucus resigning to be appointed ambassador to China and Bullock appointing Walsh, was designed by the President and his party so they would have a better chance to hold on to that senate seat. Rank political maneuvering.
  7. constitutionalist
    Report Abuse
    constitutionalist - March 02, 2014 9:21 am
    I agree.
    ..
    ..
    No representative should be appointed over us. Regardless of party.
    ..
    ..
    An appointed representative is repugnant to our system of government and representation.
  8. BEUT
    Report Abuse
    BEUT - March 02, 2014 7:35 am
    I agree with Kelldog. Is Bob Brown on Montana Standard staff? Seems like his letters to the editor get feature status often complete with accompanying pictures.
  9. Mjkelldog
    Report Abuse
    Mjkelldog - March 02, 2014 6:55 am
    The only reason you are saying this, Bob, is because it was a Democratic Gov appointing a Democratic senator. If it were a Republican nomination, this article wouldn't have been written. You are as political as you claim Bullock is. So over you.....

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