For people who don’t live on a steady diet of political news and ramen noodles, the various planks in a party platform, particularly a state party platform, can seem like a list of demands from an unhinged hijacker. Sorry Green Party of Texas, but removing all U.S. troops from foreign bases just ain’t gonna happen.
Since state party platforms often vacillate between pie-in-the-sky statements of grand purpose and red meat wish lists, most observers tend to consider them at best little more than suggestions, and at worst completely irrelevant.
Despite the non-binding nature of platform planks, the documents as a whole are an interesting read. If only to understand where a party’s Overton Window is facing. In the case of the Texas GOP, that window is looking back in time more than 100 years.
For the last four years, the Republican Party of Texas has included a plank in its platform calling for the repeal of the 17th Amendment, the one that guarantees direct election of senators. Prior to the ratification of the 17th Amendment, U.S. Senators were elected by state legislators.
The desire to return to the days of state lawmakers selecting senators came from the Republicans’ fight against President Obama. Because the House GOP’s anti-Affordable Care Act votes kept dying in the Senate, rank and file Republicans came to believe the old saw, “if you don’t like the score, change the rules.”
Over the years, various right-wing luminaries have come up with various rationalizations to get rid of the 17th Amendment. The primary justification is, in essence, that the removal of the state legislatures’ ability to appoint senators took away the states’ main check on the federal government.
The argument that the 17th Amendment allows the federal government to run roughshod over the states has been made by everyone from Rick Perry to Sens. Jeff Flake, R-Utah, and Mike Lee, R-Ariz. The late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia said the 17th Amendment directly led to the “decline of states’ rights in the 20th Century.”
Along with reducing the states’ ability to kneecap the federal government, some conservative politicians believe that the direct election of senators was a key reason special interest groups entered congressional politics. The argument goes along the lines of, “candidates for senate run statewide and statewide races are expensive — so senate candidates have to get money from special interest groups.”
Although GOP politicians like to dress up their anti-17th Amendment rhetoric in states’ rights finery and election integrity embroidery, the realpolitik reasoning behind their opposition to the direct election of senators is their craving for uncontested power and unadulterated control.
Specifically, a desire for long lasting control of the U.S. Senate. The GOP is the dominant party in 32 state legislatures across the country. If the 17th Amendment were repealed tomorrow, those state houses would give the Republicans an unstoppable super majority in the Senate — instead of the 51 seats they currently have.