There ought to be a law – Senators

I’ve been pondering the implications of recent events in the Senate that lead me to believe that there is a need for a couple of new laws. The first law deals with the replacement of Senators following a vacancy. Given the hi-jinks that took place in New York and Illinois following the resignations of Hillary Clinton (D) and Barrack Obama (D), it seems like the recently passed law in Massachusetts would be one worth adapting elsewhere in the country. When a Senator retires or moves on to a new position, the Governor should be allowed to appoint a temporary replacement, who would not run for the office. They would be able to hold the seat for a six month period of time until a special election to fill the seat would be held.   This suggested change in the law is a slight modification of the Constitutional Amendment that Senator Feingold has suggested.

The second law that should be put into place, is a mandatory retirement age for members of Congress. There is no reason that current Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV) – 91 years old or former Senator Strom Thurmond (R-SC) – 100 years old, should put their constituents and the country at risk for attentive, timely and contemporary representation. Even the Catholic Church has suggested a papal retirement age of 80, recognizing the trials of the job and the declining physical and potential mental health of those holding this office. As I watched Senator Jim Bunning (R-KY), 77 years old, dozing during the recent Senate Finance Committee hearings on the Baucus bill, the importance of a more energized and cogent team of players becomes all the more important. I’m happy to say that Senator Bunning is not running for re-election.

In addition to the physical ailments and slowing down of those over 75 or 80, the world views that they bring to their seats have been shaped by their experiences of a long lost cultural, economic and demographic reality. They frame their laws based on these views and perspectives not on the fast changing reality of today’s needs and demands.


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15 thoughts on “There ought to be a law – Senators

  1. Special elections cost EXTRA unplanned unbudgeted money, right? can we afford it?

    Don’t we already have mandatory retirement for members of Congress? It follows when they lose an election, right? Doesn’t your proposal take away rights from people?

    IF i’m right, let’s please be fiscally responsible AND not curb our rights. But I could be wrong. I often am.

  2. I’d just as soon not allow any appointment at all. A state/congressional district can either call a special election or wait until the regularly scheduled one – their call. But I see no compelling reason to seat an unelected member of Congress. There’s always going to be nearly a hundred other Senators & 400+ Representatives so it’s not like it poses any threat to the nation.

    As far as mandatory retirement age – I could see a reasonable argument that it would be illegal age discrimination. There is such a tremendous variation between individuals and modern medicine is constantly improving. Today’s 90 is tomorrow’s 60. Or something like that.

    I’d just as soon go all the way and address the real problem – set term-limits. I don’t have a problem with grandfathering in sitting politicians and doing it gradually, but I think the quality of our representation would improve.

    1. Thanks for your feedback. The reasons for an appointment can be seen in the Kirk appointment for the Kennedy Senate seat. This appointment brings the Democrats to 60, and given the arcane rules of the Senate could be the difference in the results of several bills including health care, climate change, etc. States and Americans should not have to forego the replacement of a Senator until an election can be held.

      In terms of retirement age, there are many occupations and firms that have a mandatory retirment age including airline pilots, police officers, some law firms, etc. I’m not a lawyer, but I don’t see these as being examples of illegal age discrimination.

      Another option for improving the quality of representation that is being discussed is to make elections open elections rather than party elections. This would bring the best two finalists of either party to the forefront and final selection process.

      There also needs to be some improvements in the re-districting process, so that seats are not cast in stone as being for one party or another based on a gerrymandered geographic determination.

      1. Well I wouldn’t call the filibuster an arcane rule at all. Our country was set up with all kinds of checks & balances and in particular, with the foresight to try and prevent a tyrany of the majority. I don’t care which party is in power, something that makes it more difficult for 51% to completely ignore the minority is a Good Thing.

        Your response seems to indicate you’re care more about the results than the principles. You want it so you can get your 60 and legislation you like passed. That’s fine – you’re certainly entitled to that. But what if it were reversed? What if the Republicans wanted to use an appointment to fill a vacancy so they could push through…I don’t know, whatever – a bunch of legislation you think is awful.

        I don’t care a lick who it would benefit or hurt, I don’t want either side to get to count the vote of someone who wasn’t elected.

        This idea that one seat being vacant could be some sort of risk to the union…if you can’t convince one more guy among those elected by the people to agree with you, then you have no business doing it by fiat. Appointment benefits only the parties, not the people. And if the people of a district don’t want to go unrepresented for any appreciable period of time, they are free to hold a special election so their representative has legitimacy.

        On the legality of mandatory retirement – I really haven’t read enough on the legal aspects either. But age itself just seems to me to be an entirely arbitrary means to judge someone’s ability to do a job. Period. Whether it’s minimum age requirements (excepting age of minority/majority) or maximum age, if some one is otherwise fit for a role I don’t agree with using the year they were born as a viable criteria. There are some 18 year olds with more intelligence, common sense and even experience than some 40 year olds. There are some 70 year olds sharper, in better health and further away from dying than some 30 year olds.

        Redistricting – yeah. It’s the age old, golden rule. He who has the gold, makes the rules. Some problems are not that tough – we just make them so. Redistricting is just a difficult problem.


  3. I’m in favor of term limits for elected officials, and I also support a consistent nationwide standard (like Senator Feingold’s proposed Constitutional amendment) that would allow the people of a given state to choose who they want to represent them in the Senate, should a vacancy occcur unexpectedly.

  4. appointments DO in fact benefit the people, because they are fiscally responsible. And appointments can be quick, efficient and effective. If you don’t trust your Governor, then why did you elect them to the seat? And since they are elected it also means that this is not “true” fiat. True fiat has a royal or Kingly context. Um, Governors are elected…they are not kings…so it’s not exactly the same.

    Also, term limits are NOT the same as AGE limits. So, in a sense they are a bit off topic (just a bit).

    It’s just weird to me to see a liberal blog advocating taking rights away. But not so weird for the blind eye to the costs of special elections.

    1. The original post was age limits – I brought up term limits because I believe it addresses the same problem in a more just and less problematic manner.

      If the costs of special elections are so onerous, why not just cut back on all elections? 🙂

      I assume then, you would prefer the other part of the 17th be repealed though, right? I mean much you’re making the efficiency in lieu of directly electing Senators, then you’d rather we go back to letting our elected state legislators choose our Senators.

      I’m very fiscally conservative. But there are just some things that are worth the cost, an I believe special elections to fill vacant seats is one of them. I don’t have a firm grasp on the cost though. Considering they’re not _that_ common, and all the pollworkers I’ve ever met do so voluntarily I can’t imagine it’s that much money. Not like they have to go out & buy new voting machines or something – print up the ballots and get it done. Or the states can choose to wait. I just can’t buy that one of these bozos are so important – or hell, that they’d even be missed if the seat was vacant for a little while.


        The additional costs are real. Here’s one estimate for ONE election at $30,000,000. To turn a blind eye to easily preventable costs is common though. Somewhat sad, but common. So common that I don’t blame you one bit for thinking it’s worth it.

        However, I prefer that my elected officials do what they can to prevent very preventable additional costs even if it is only a mere $30,000,000 per occurance. But that’s just me and my kooky expectations for fiscal responsibility.

  5. PB, that’s the stuff.

    I would further add on to repeal of the 17th by stating that senate terms are overlapping (i.e. a senate appointment would overlap two state legislatures); they are absolutely constrained to serving a max of 8 years in the upper chamber, they be non-partisan, paid a maximum of 200,000k/year to ensure that bright applicants apply rather than just the wealthy, and pension-free. The “new” senate would have to be confirmed by a 50+1 majority in their legislatures.

    Or just leave it to the states too, that would work.

    1. Thanks for the support, Matt. I am not sure I agree with all of your thoughts though. In general, I oppose term limits. If we want wisdom and knowledge in our legislators, we need to prime the pump with experience.

      Having said that, I favor finding a way to break the hold that political parties have over the election process. But that is not likely to happen because political parties fund elections and determine the selection of candidates.

      We need a Congressional Evolution.

  6. I would also argue that the senators would be more akin to “ambassadors” to Washington rather than “representatives.” This is what the House is for, they represent the people. The senators would be the disconnected body that debates policy thoroughly and honestly, without the pervasive mob mentality that now exists in both houses. They should be business owners, scholars, etc. similar to the way the Republic was set up in Rome, and how it was set up in this country until about 100 years ago.

    The founders always intended for the people to hold the ability to modify the Constitution, just had to go through a vigorous due process that our current Congress seems able to evade.

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