State Sen. Frank Niceley says he’s not surprised by a poll indicating that 93 percent of Tennesseans oppose his proposal to have the Republican and Democratic nominees to the U.S. Senate selected by the partisan caucuses of the state Legislature.
“Ninety-two percent of them don’t realize that before 1913 the founding fathers had legislatures select the senators,” he said. “They just need a little history lesson. … Once you explain to them that it’s a check on the runaway federal government, they get it.”
At another point in an interview Niceley said he is troubled that, for many citizens, “the only thing that exceeds the ignorance is the apathy.”
“If you asked people should they even have a Legislature, 75 percent of them might say no,” he said. “They don’t realize the Legislature already selects the state treasurer, the comptroller and the secretary of state.”
The Vanderbilt University poll, released last week, included a question on whether state legislators should chose U.S. Senate nominees as proposed in Niceley’s bill (SB471).
The poll found 93 percent of those questioned said they were opposed to the idea and just 5 percent supported it. John Geer, a Vanderbilt political science professor and co-director of the poll, said that was one of the most lopsided results encountered in the polling.
Niceley’s bill cleared a House committee and made it to the Senate floor last session, but he put off any floor vote until next year. The senator said the poll results won’t change his push the bill next year.
“What we’re trying to do is educate people,” he said, contending that if enough “small red states” could have state legislators picking U.S. Senate nominees, they could effectively control the U.S. Senate and through that “get Washington under control.”
Another offbeat question in the Vanderbilt poll asked for an opinion on whether Tennessee’s state taxes were higher, lower or about the same as other states. The results: 33 percent thought Tennessee taxes are above average, 38 percent thought they are about the same and just 26 percent thought they are lower than most other states.
The correct answer, as the poll co-directors noted, is that Tennessee has lower taxes than most other states. A Tax Foundation report listing average per capita state taxes for all states for 2007-2011 put Tennessee as 42nd among states in overall tax burden — and that was before passage in 2012 and this year of legislation that will repeal, in stages, the state’s inheritance tax; reduce the sales tax on groceries and exempt more people from paying the Hall income tax on stock and bond dividends.