It’s encouraging that the silliest proposals coming out of the legislature are hacked off at the ankles before they ever get too far.
The end-run around the 17th Amendment proposed by Frank Niceley isn’t going anywhere. His notion that U.S. Senate candidates be selected by the two parties’ legislative caucuses was a masterful piece of concern trolling — he said it would prevent another Mark Clayton-esque debacle for the Democrats, a party that the Strawberry Plains Republican holds in high regard, surely. He also repeated the oft-parroted line that after the power to select senators was taken away from state legislatures, the federal government became less accountable to the states. The 17th Amendment, for what it’s worth, is exactly 100 years old this month and yet the Republic survives.
What Niceley’s proposal really was about wasn’t federalism or state’s rights — it was about ensuring the Right Type of Republican was ultimately elected by the people of Tennessee. After all, in our deep crimson state, the Republican nomination is tantamount to election.
The reddening of Tennessee hasn’t changed the Volunteer State’s propensity to select safe and soft moderates in statewide elections — not the fierce populist firebreathing True Believers like Niceley.
Two of those reviled moderates more or less ensured Niceley’s bill would die. The governor pulled out his velvet hammer and very nearly almost all-but-threatened to perhaps consider using a veto on the bill.
Meanwhile, Speaker Beth Harwell said she heard from Sen. Bob Corker, who expressed his displeasure from the bill.
Niceley and his fellow worshippers of the unfettered free market should love the way this bill died. Two men, acting in their own rational self-interest, brought to bear their influence, resulting in, ultimately, a greater good. The people of Tennessee will still be trusted to select nominees to represent them in the greatest deliberative body in the world.
Niceley noted that his proposal served its intended purpose — Corker and fellow senator Lamar Alexander started paying attention to the legislature. Whether or not it portends any substantive change in the relationship between the state and its elected officials in Washington remains to be seen.
If anything, Niceley’s bill was among the most subtle of the proposals in the General Assembly designed to realign the federal relationship.
Sen. Mae Beavers is the champion of most of these actions with her various delusional nullification proposals; her latest would create a large committee of lawmakers to study federal law to determine which federal laws Tennessee might overturn.
In the interest of preserving the precious time of the legislators and the tax dollars of Tennesseans, here’s an eligible list of those laws:
Thankfully, we haven’t gone so far as the lawmakers in our mother state to the east. North Carolina is considering a measure setting up an established church with the logic that the First Amendment prohibition against an establishment of religion applies only to the federal government and any court cases incorporating the establishment clause are void as it comes to the states because they were decided by federal courts.
A power struggle between the states and the federal government isn’t new, of course. It’s as old as the Republic itself, as is general suspicion of strong central government.
What’s new is that suspicion has grown into tinfoil conspiracy and crackpot constitutional theory. There isn’t reasoned debate. Instead there is fear-mongering and fuzzy logic fused into honest-to-God legislation that is treated seriously — if only for a time.
Perhaps Niceley was correct. It is a good thing that Corker and Alexander are paying attention to what the state legislature is up to. Maybe the latter will finally start acting like adults.