Steve Chapman

These are not the only examples of politicians bypassing democracy. In New York, Gov. David Paterson toyed with naming Caroline Kennedy to replace Hillary Clinton, until she backed out and he chose Kirsten Gillibrand. In Colorado, Gov. Bill Ritter selected Michael Bennet to take over for Ken Salazar.

Delaware Gov. Ruth Ann Minner asked Ted Kaufman, a longtime aide to Joe Biden, to serve out his term. So right now, 5 percent of the nation's highest legislative body will consist of members installed without the consent of the governed.

Only a handful of states make a practice of holding a special election to fill vacant Senate seats. Most leave it to the governor if the opening occurs less than two years before the next regular election.

That may have made sense back in the days when senators were chosen by state legislatures, as stipulated in the U.S. Constitution. Voters didn't get a say until the 17th Amendment was ratified in 1913. But if democracy is a better way to choose senators for six-year terms, it stands to reason that it's also a better way to choose senators for two-year terms.

True, elections cost money. Too bad. If cost were the dominant consideration, we wouldn't have them at all. No one would argue that in a period of fiscal distress -- say, a recession -- we should suspend normal democratic procedures to conserve cash. So how can we justify dispensing with the voters when it comes time to fill a Senate seat?

Some governors are honest and conscientious in making such appointments. Some are not. But in the most fundamental sense, it doesn't matter. Even the most honest, public-spirited governor is incapable of divining whom the people would elect if given the chance. A single person should not be entrusted with such unchecked authority.

Rod Blagojevich proved that. And no other governor has furnished a convincing rebuttal.


Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.
 

 
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