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While recently debating whether Alaska should switch to making the state attorney general an elected rather than appointed position, North Pole Rep. Doug Isaacson went off the rails.
Isaacson is in favor of keeping the state attorney general an appointed position — and that's fine; it's his opinion, and last time we checked, Alaska wasn't falling apart with this system in place. While defending his point, however, Isaacson decided to go further: He'd like to see U.S. senators go back to being appointed by state Legislatures, and do away with the 17th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution — the one that lets ordinary citizens vote for their senators.
Why? According to The Associated Press, Isaacson said it's because voters sometimes make mistakes. He also said that the 17th Amendment weakened the ability of states to control federal overreach.
In other words, despite assurances to the contrary, Rep. Isaacson doesn't always trust voters to make the correct decision when it comes to pulling that (at this day and age, metaphorical) lever.
Let's examine the ways Isaacson is wrong on this particular issue.
• Anything that reduces the people's ability to have a say in their political representation is a bad idea. We fought the Revolutionary War over political representation. We aren’t in any hurry to put down our iPhones and hop back in time.
• The 17th Amendment weakened the political pull of state Legislatures — that’s not the same thing as weakening the states themselves. It's the job of Alaska's two U.S. senators to represent the interests of their state. That's the reason Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Sen. Mark Begich joined with U.S. Rep. Don Young to push the military to keep F-16s at Eielson Air Force Base, the reason Murkowski is pushing for more Arctic exploration, and the reason Begich recently hounded the U.S. postmaster general into returning local mail sorting to Ketchikan. They are looking out for Alaska as best they can.
• The best part about the current system is that if a senator is not doing a good job, we pick someone else next time, and move on. We dole out a performance review every six years, and if something isn't working, we correct it.
Speaking of correcting things that aren’t working:
• A lot of state Legislatures did a really, really bad job last time they had this authority. Break open any textbook on the mid-19th Century and you’ll see the word "corruption.” Turns out it's easier to taint the selection process when there's only a few dozen people doing the selecting. But even putting aside the issue of corruption, a well-meaning Legislature can still pick a candidate that is not truly representative of the people in the state. Three-quarters of the states in the Union had to ratify the 17th Amendment before it became official — that doesn't happen unless the existing system is not working.
All in all, the problem with this idea is that it strengthens the Alaska Legislature at the expense of Alaskan voters.
It’s wrong to downplay the importance of voters to a healthy, functional Democracy. It’s wrong to assume that a powerful state Legislature automatically means a healthy state.Most of all, the idea is wrong because we already tried it that way, and it didn't work.
The old way might have made sense when the fastest way to travel from point A to point B was a mule, but it didn't make sense when Americans got rid of the process in 1913, and it certainly doesn't make sense now.