Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Iowa should fill senate seats by special election

Here's the Feb. 18 "Our View" ...

Last year’s election of two sitting senators to president and vice president — along with the appointment of senators to become secretary of state and secretary of the interior — hasn’t led to any real “good” examples of why governors should retain the authority to appoint U.S. senators. The situation instead has offered a “bad” example (in New York Gov. David Patterson’s efforts to replace Hillary Clinton) and a blatantly “ugly” example (in former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s efforts to replace Barack Obama).

Even the now moot negotiations over the non-appointment of Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) to secretary of commerce shows how much wheeling and dealing can be done to ensure that new senator is of the right party (different than the governor’s in Gregg’s case) and of the right duration (not willing to seek re-election).

Considering that the average age for a U.S. senator is 62 — Iowa’s Chuck Grassley is 75, and Tom Harkin is 69 — it’s easy to understand why 55-year-old Sen. Russ Feingold has proposed a Constitutional amendment calling all states to follow the example of Wisconsin by filling vacated senate positions by special election rather than by gubernatorial appointment. Although elections don’t always provide a clear winner — just look at what’s happening in Minnesota between Norm Coleman and Al Franken — they do offer more legitimacy than the mere whim of a state’s chief executive.

We support Feingold in concept, but we can’t agree with his call for a Constitutional amendment.

That’s why we hope that House File 200, which was introduced by Democrat Rep. Mark Kuhn of Charles City, gets more than mere lip service from the Iowa Legislature. Yes, to hold a special election for a vacated senate seat could cost the state as much as $1 million, but it’s a necessary price to ensure that Iowa senators don’t require any asterisk next to their names. And, considering that it’s been more than seven decades since the state had a vacated senate seat, it’s not an expense that occurs very often.

If other states want to continue to use gubernatorial appointment as the means for choosing their representative in the upper house of Congress, then that’s their prerogative. But Iowa should show that it can learn from its neighboring states — both from the good example of Wisconsin, and from the ugly example of Illinois.

Iowa’s Democratic leaders should also keep in mind that Illinois has become an international laughingstock not only because its governor allegedly tried to peddle off Obama’s old senate seat, but also because its Democratic leaders refused have their next senator decided by special election. They were more afraid of losing the open seat to a Republican reformer than they were of letting the now impeached Blagojevich make his own selection.

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