Bill Would Let Legislators Choose U.S. Senate Nominees

A bill proposed by East Tennessee Republicans calls for U.S. Senate candidates to be nominated by the Legislature’s partisan caucuses rather than in contested primary elections.
Sen. Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains, proposes that the new system take effect on Nov. 30, 2014. That effectively “grandfathers in” incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander’s re-election under the present system “because he’s doing such a good job,” said Niceley.
The new system would be valid under the U.S. Constitution, which courts have held grants wide latitude to states in deciding how political parties nominate candidates for the U.S. Senate, Niceley said.
He noted that Utah does not have contested primaries, instead having each party pick a nominee at a party caucus meeting.
Until 1913, senators were directly chosen by state legislators. In that year, the 17th amendment to the U.S. Constitution changed that system to provide for popular election. But the amendment is silent on how candidates are nominated for the election.
“We’ve tried it this way (contested primaries) for 100 years,” said Niceley. “It’s time to try something different.”
Under the bill (SB471), the House and Senate Republican Caucuses would jointly choose the GOP nominee for the U.S. Senate at an open meeting while the House and Senate Democratic Caucuses would choose the Democratic nominee.
Such a system would avoid the huge fundraising and spending in primary elections and open the door for more qualified candidates with fewer financial resources to seek the nomination, Niceley said.
In last year’s Democratic U.S. Senate primary, the party was “embarrassed” by the nomination of Mark Clayton, Nicely said, and the new system would avoid such situations. Clayton, who was officially disavowed by the state Democratic Party for what party officials called “extremist views, got about 30 percent of the vote in losing to Republican Sen. Bob Corker.
Niceley said he has discussed the proposal with legislative leaders and believes the idea has considerable support. He said Rep. Harry Brooks, R-Knoxville, will sponsor the bill in the House.
Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle, D-Memphis, said he had discussed the proposal with Niceley and thought it “an interesting idea,” though he would defer to former Sen. Roy Herron, recently elected chairman of the Tennessee Democratic Party. Herron said letting legislators pick Senate nominees would “turn back the clock a century or two.”
“I have great respect for Sen. Niceley, but Democrats believe in democracy and trust the people over the politicians,” Herron said. “I’m thankful to represent the Democratic party, not the dinosaur party.”
State Republican Chairman Chris Devaney, on the other hand, said this in an email after a conversation with Niceley Wednesday:
“You can always can count on Sen. Nicely to come up with innovative proposals conservatives can be proud of. This is another step in that direction and I certainly think it is an interesting idea.”
Jim Jefferies, spokesman for Alexander said the senator hasn’t seen the bill and has no comment at this time, though “I know he will appreciate Mr. Niceley’s compliment” about Alexander doing a “good job.”
“Sen. Corker hasn’t seen the bill and isn’t in the habit of weighing in on state legislation,” said Laura Herzog, spokeswoman for Corker.

14 thoughts on “Bill Would Let Legislators Choose U.S. Senate Nominees

  1. Lee Bailey

    How convenient…take the vote away from the people so that we can’t vote out an extremely unpopular GOP senator who has proven himself to be one of the biggest RINOs ever elected from Tennessee!!!! Of COURSE he hasn’t seen the bill…knows nothing about it…sees nothing, hears nothing, knows nothing…just call him Lamar Schultz Alexander!!! I’d expect this from Obama and his minions…but not from our side!!!!

  2. Doug White

    Frank Nicely – you have soooo Nicely invited everyone in TN to be sure and work in your county to be sure that someone defeats you!! You are a disgrace to our Democracy and Freedom of Choice. Many people across TN do not share your adoration for Senator Alexander, to say the lease, with your proposal, I am sure that you were standing up in your home cheering as you watcher our TN Republican Senator walk with President Obama, grinning from ear to ear, so proud to be a part of the Inauguration, but why would he not be since he was in the top five percent of Congress who had supported President Obama’s Bills?? Guess you knew that and also agreed with the Senator on that? You and others like you should be sent to the front lines in Afghanistan to see what taking away the People’s Freedoms creates. Doug White, an angry citizen who is ready to fight against people like Frank Niceley and also Sen. Alexander who is NOT Representing the people of TN who elected him to be a conservative.

  3. Contradiction

    Frank Niceley is contradicting himself. If Alexander is doing such a good job then why change how he was choosen? Is Niceley trying to say something about Corker?

  4. Jennifer Little

    To disagree doesn’t require snarky comments. It’s time we take a long look at how effective elections have been. Sen. Frank Niceley has proposed an idea that is very close to what our Founding Father’s wanted. Instead of a candidate with unlimited resources flooding the media & coming out on top, a candidate with impeccable credentials but limited resources has an opportunity. This proposal encourages discussion and is a part of the democratic process. Disparaging comments about Sen. Niceley make the point that not every voter has the ability to make an informed decision.

  5. Bob G.

    To ALL Tennesseans…the United States of America was founded as a republic; not a democracy. The founders loathed the democratic form of government. Originally,
    Senators were chosen by the legislatures of the several States and were not popularly elected by the people. The founders reasoned that the Senators should be ‘ambassadors’ from the several States to the federal government; looking out for the best interest of their respective State. Each State legislature had the power to recall any Senator from their State for good cause. And with all due respect, neither Alexander; nor Corker deserve to be re-elected to office. Tennessee deserves statesmen to represent this great State…not bought-out neocons.

  6. Judith

    Jennifer Little is absolutely right. Nicely is just trying to take us a little bit back to what our founders gave us prior to the 17th Amendment. The states had the right and power over the senators. With today’s dumbed down electorate, they keep putting the problems back in office. Despite a 9% approval rating of Congress, more than 90% of them returned to office. Give the senate power back to the states where it belonged in the beginning!

  7. Teesdale

    I do not support Sen. Alexander at all, but this is a great idea. Senators are supposed to represent the state legislatures, so they should not be popularly elected. The people’s House is for popular election…

  8. tina ferguson

    IF it werent so sad …this would be funny. Guess Carl Rove is looking for an East Tennessee Bureau Chief. To Mr. Niceley … there ARE qualified contenders out there so dont count your red and black flannel chickens until they hatch!!!

  9. Wells Sommer

    Mr Niceley don’t let the power go to your head! Withdraw your SB471, that’s exactly what it is an SB!We don’t need any “caucuses!”
    Mr Alexander has not done a good job for our Nation or our state of Tennessee! All effort should be made to defeat him in the upcoming primary, sadly it won’t happen.
    Mr. Niceley you have much more important work facing you than to play National Politics!
    There is a pressing 2nd Amendment issue right now plus other matters I believe you should be involved in.

  10. Drik

    So would turning the clock back a 100 years get us to where we DIDN’T have a $16 trillion debt hanging over our head while the government is buying ammo and light tanks to quell our discomfiture? Sounds like a deal

  11. Greg

    This story is getting major coverage in other news media. This story ought to be a main story in the site. It seems knoxnews is trying to cover it up by not publishing more on this story on their site.

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