It is rare in these days of 24-hour news cycles that questions of governmental structures and balances of power are given due consideration. (A consequence of living in a democracy with a high-tech, instant media and a population with a strong desire for instant gratification.)

Over the past four months, since the election of President Barack Obama through the nation’s continued economic struggles, actions by elected officials and cries of the people have raised concerns about weakening American governance, particularly in the U.S. Senate.

We all watched the sensation that was former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. The state of Illinois has a process that puts the replacement of a senator in the hands of its governor until the next election. With an unethical governor auctioning for the “highest bid” from potential replacements, the people of Illinois and across the country started an uprising.

Many questions emerged. Is it right that a governor have such power? Doesn’t allowing a governor to choose separate that selection from the people? How unjust! How undemocratic!

Many states then began assessing their processes to fill vacant Senate seats. Maine, in a bill sponsored by Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham, proposes that vacancies be filled by special elections be held within 60 days. “I believe it should be a citizen election, an open process,” Diamond told the Sun Journal on Feb. 21,

So what is the connection between filling vacancices and bailouts and economic recovery?

I’ll tell you.

Dire warnings from executives and economists have pushed Americans into demanding some “solution” from Washington D.C. Yet problems from a mixture of unethical business practices, lazy regulators and myopic politicians over a long period of time cannot be solved in mere months with gobs money and reactionary legislation.

At least not in my opinion.

And while many proposals fly through the House, the relatively slower process in the Senate (relatively the key word) has made special interest groups bemoan so-called obstructionists for blocking certain agendas. Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins are among them, as the byproduct of bipartisanship is apparently being accused of wrecking the other guy’s plan.

This chatter and debate and endless howling makes it all appear that if the American mob demands action from Washington, those demands must be met without delay. Otherwise, all is lost and the country is doomed. Doesn’t anyone take time to think about things anymore?

The American form of government was created to be deliberative, and take into account many approaches in order to balance power across many interests. Diminishing the potential for a president to become a monarch, assurances that power and influence would be balanced between state and federal governments, checks and balances between the federal branches are attempts to buffer the governing process from the popular whims that may either unreasonably trump a minority view, or lead to irrational policies based on emotions instead of rationality.

Changing the selection process of senators is now in the crosshairs. Predictably, popular outrage over Gov. “Dead Meat” Blagojevich, as the Illinois media is prone to calling him, is driving national movements to remove the power to appoint senators from governor’s hands.

Before we demand such structural changes, shouldn’t we consider long-term ramifications? In the case of the Senate, the Founding Fathers originally created a system that left selection of senators to state legislatures, to strengthen the bond between the network of state governments and the federal government.

This Sun Journal story on Sen. Diamond’s bill ended with a simple last line: “U.S. senators used to be elected by state legislatures, not in general elections, until the 17th amendment to the U.S. Constitution was passed in 1913.

The amendment called for direct elections and allowed states to grant their governor the right to appoint senators in the event of an opening.”

How many Americans know that this was the case? More important, how many understand why it was the case? The bond between the Senate and state governments is there for very good reasons, and it shouldn’t be reformed in the haste that democracy today is demanding.

Jonathan LaBonte, of New Auburn, is a columnist for the Sun Journal and an Androscoggin County Commissioner. E-mail: [email protected]


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