The Senate State and Local Government Committee voted 7-1 Tuesday to advance the measure without debate. The bill sponsored by Sen. Frank Niceley of Strawberry Plains would replace the primary system used for deciding nominees.
Niceley said the bill would return the state closer to the system used before 1913, when state lawmakers directly appointed U.S. senators. That system was replaced with direct election by 17th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which Niceley described as a “mad rush of progressive movement.”
“We’re the parent, and Washington’s the child,” Nicely said. “The founding fathers in their wisdom gave us the power to jerk their chain. And this is sort of just jerking their chain.”
The measure would take effect after next year’s election, meaning Republican U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander’s re-election bid wouldn’t be affected next year.
“Under this plan, if we could pick a good man or good woman that we knew would work with us, I guarantee you that when send them a resolution they would at least acknowledge they go it,” Nicely said.
Niceley acknowledged that the state couldn’t return to directly naming U.S. senators without changing the U.S. Constitution.
“But with this bill ... it’s perfectly legal for us to change the law to where we nominate the U.S. Senate nominees,” he said. “That gets us about half of what we lost in 1913.”
The companion bill has yet to be heard in a House subcommittee.
House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner of Nashville said the proposal is in keeping with other GOP initiatives in the General Assembly.
“We’re refighting the Civil War up here, we’re taking the workers ability to make a living back to the pre-Depression days,” he said. “I think it’s a trend to go back to the way we used to do things around here.”