Editorial: Bill to let lawmakers decide Senate nominations should be buried for good

Apr. 03, 2013 @ 11:21 PM

It looks like we're going to have to rely on Gov. Bill Haslam to save the state from reckless and irresponsible legislation proposed by some lawmakers.

Republicans have a supermajority in the Legislature now, and they can do pretty much anything they want to. That can be a good thing, when it comes to controlling spending. But it also allows self-serving, power-hungry lawmakers to try to get support for bills that have no business receiving consideration.

A bill to give legislators, not the people, the power to decide the nominees for the state’s U.S. Senate seats was gaining some strength in the General Assembly before Haslam stepped up and said he had serious problems with it and probably would veto it if it passed. The bill was withdrawn Tuesday, but only until next year when it is sure to resurface.

The governor told reporters he objects to eliminating primary elections to decide Republican and Democratic nominees for the U.S. Senate, and said he would “very strongly” consider a veto of the measure if it was passed by the Legislature. “I have a major problem with that in the sense that we’re going to take the selection of a United States senator out of the hands of the people of Tennessee and have a few folks decide who that should be,” Haslam said in an Associated Press report. “That just doesn’t feel right to me.”

Rep. Harry Brooks, R-Knoxville, announced a short time later in a House committee that he wanted to delay consideration of the bill until next year. The panel approved the motion without debate. Sen. Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains, and often the ringleader of overreaching legislation, had previously put a full Senate vote on the measure on hold until the final calendar of the year.

He has said the bill is an effort to return to the system closer to the direct appointments that were in place before the adoption of the 17th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1913. That is the way it used to be done. Think smoke-filled backrooms with unelected powers deciding who the nominees will be. That is certainly a picture we want to see again.

Having political power should be about being in a position to do the most good for the public, pushing programs that couldn't get footing when the other party had control or when power was more equally divided. Instead, some in the Republican supermajority seem to see it as license to push an agenda that neither serves the public well nor would be welcomed by the very people they are elected to represent.

If lawmakers like Nicely are allowed to prevail on an agenda that includes bills like this, Republicans won't hold on to their newfound power as long as they'd like. The people have a funny way of showing their displeasure with heavyhanded schemes and reckless bills.

Gov. Haslam may be the firewall that keeps such bills as this from becoming law. It's regrettable that the governor has to be a babysitter to keep childish behavior in the Legislature from getting out of hand. These kinds of nutty bills keep important legislation from being heard.