Texas Politics

Lieutenant Governor and Challengers: Who Should Choose US Senators?



The 17th Amendment to the U. S. Constitution in 1913 shifted the selecting U.S. senators from state legislatures to direct election by voters.

Two of the four candidates for lieutenant governor want to repeal it.

Or did.

The lieutenant governor presides over the Texas Senate. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst wants to keep doing it, since Ted Cruz dashed his U.S. Senate ambitions in 2012.

In a debate Oct. 3 before the Clear Lake Tea Party, Dewhurst said returning to legislatures choosing U.S. senators would have them “listening daily to the heartbeat of the legislatures and not be passing the laws that cost all of us.”

Repeal is a big goal for some Tea Party-oriented folks. Gov. Rick Perry called for it in 2011, while seeking the 2012 Republican presidential nomination.

Houston state Sen. Dan Patrick backed Dewhurst over Cruz for the Senate. Dewhurst appointed him to chair the Senate Education Committee. Patrick now wants to replace Dewhurst.

Patrick said in October that “I was the one who began the conversation about this critically important issue.

“I unequivocally support the repeal of the 17th Amendment and the restoration of our Founders’ original intent to have the state legislatures select our United States senators,” Patrick said. If US senators were beholden to legislatures, “Gross overreaches of the federal government, like Obamacare, would never have seen the light of day.”

The wind must have changed. Jan. 20, before the King Street Patriots, news reports said Patrick and Dewhurst both opposed repeal of the 17th Amendment.

Patrick: “I would not be in favor of repealing it. The people have been voting for their senators too long.”

The October call for repeal? Patrick said he “misspoke” or was “misquoted.” Wasn’t sure which.

Dewhurst: “Sheer practicality” makes repeal infeasible. “It’s not going to happen.” Candidate Three, Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, a former senator who opposed repeal all along, complained of “whiplash” after the flip-flops of Patrick and Dewhurst.

Candidate Four, Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples, another former state senator, said “If we didn’t have direct election of senators, Ted Cruz would not be in the United States Senate today.”

Big Cheers from Cruz’s Tea Party fan base.

Stay tuned as we try to monitor the wind direction.

Here’s our opinion on whether senators elected since 1940 might have been chosen by the legislature:

• W. Lee “Pappy” O’Daniel – (D-1941) Elected in 1941 special election. The singing flour salesman on the radio for years got himself elected governor in 1938. Narrowly beat then- U.S. Rep. Lyndon Johnson. Legislators wouldn’t have sent O’Daniel to the Senate –– except maybe to get rid of him as governor.

• Lyndon Johnson – (D-1948) Elected when

O’Daniel didn’t seek re-election. Might not have been a senator if it was up to the legislature.

• Price Daniel, Sr. – (D-1952) Elected when long-timer Tom Connally retired. Daniel had been chosen speaker by his colleagues in the Texas House, and then elected attorney general. He probably would have been chosen by the legislature. Left the senate in 1956 after winning the governorship.

• Ralph W. Yarborough – (D-1957) A populist who had lost three races for governor, Yarborough won a 1957 special election with 38 percent – no runoff — to replace Daniel. Yarborough an unlikely choice by a legislature much more conservative than he was.

• John Tower – (R-1961) First Republican senator from Texas since just after the Civil War. Won a special election when LBJ became vice-president. Republican Tower wouldn’t be chosen senator by a legislature whose Republican could caucus in a phone booth.

• Lloyd Bentsen (D-1970) – Won the Democratic nomination from Yarborough, then beat Republican George H.W. Bush in November. Bentsen could have been chosen by the legislature had he run. Not Bush.

• Phil Gramm (R-1984) – Rode a chain of circumstances to replace Tower when he retired. Cocky party-switcher Gramm could have set a land speed record on a tricycle before being chosen by a Democrat-dominated legislature.

• Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-1993) – The first Republican state treasurer won a special election when Bentsen became Bill Clinton’s treasury secretary. Though a 1970s Texas House member, it’s unlikely the 1993 legislature would have chosen her.• John Cornyn (R-2002) – The former Texas attorney general and Supreme Court justice replaced the retiring Gramm. Might have been chosen by a newly-Republican Texas House and Senate — had he chosen to try.

• Ted Cruz (R-2012) –Blindsided Dewhurst to replace the retiring Hutchison. Second in first primary; won handily in runoff. Legislature choose? (Expletive), no.

Unknown and arrogant, Cruz wouldn’t have been considered by the legislature, much less been chosen, despite Republican control. Dewhurst, though some will disagree, probably wouldn’t have either, despite – or maybe because of – 10 years presiding over the Texas Senate.

DAVE MCNEELY is a political columnist. You may contact him at davemcneely111@gmail or (512)458-2963.

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