Friday, August 28, 2009 at 5:37 p.m.
Counting Charlie Crist's announcement today that he's chosen his former Chief of Staff to fill out the remained of Mel Martinez's senate term, in that past year alone six United States Senators have entered office through being appointed by a Governor. Depending the outcome of a debate over a law change in Massachusetts that number could rise to seven.
Aside from the relatively low key choice of Michael Bennet in Colorado to succeed Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, five of those appointments have met with some controversy or other assorted fishy business.
Notably, their was the saga that played out in Illinois when Governor Rod Blagojevich was caught trying to sell off President Obama's vacated seat. In Delaware, the Governor felt pressure from supporters of Vice President Joe Biden to appoint his chief of staff as a place holder so his son could run for the office in 2010. David Paterson, an unpopular accidental Governor, toyed with the idea of appointing Caroline Kennedy on the grounds that, well, she was a Kennedy in New York. And now, Crist has appointed his close friend and former Chief of Staff to keep the senate seat warm as he seeks election to the seat himself in a 14 months.
Maybe it's just us, but it has us wondering if the idea of a Governor -- one single person, elected by the people of the state as they may be -- being charged with selecting a replacement is such a good idea.
The practice dates back to the passage of 17th amendment in 1913. Previously, Senators were elected by state legislature, and not directly by the people. Originally well intended check on the federal government by state government that started to lead to controversy in the middle to late 19th century. But maybe the writers of the 17th amendment were throwing the baby out with bath water when they gave Govs sole power in appointment. Wouldn't it make more sense to still have the state legislatures vote on a replacement?
Of course, leaving the job up to one person makes the process move along quicker. In times of tragedy, when a senator has died it's easy and relatively controversy free for the Governor to appoint the widow, child, or even staff member of the deceased instead of turning death into politics. Though, a disciplined state legislature (ok ...ok, I know, but sometimes it happens) could do the same thing.
At the very least, one or both bodies of the state legislature could be charged with the responsibility of confirming the Governor's choice.
Tricky situation like Crist picking a place holder for a seat he wants himself don't come around everyday, but senate appointments aren't that rare. Nearly a quarters of all Senators who have served since the 17th amendments passage first entered the body through appointment. So maybe the way we do business needs some rethinking.