NASHVILLE - A bill stripping Tennesseans of their ability to choose U.S. Senate nominees in party primaries and instead hand it over to state lawmakers has an even chance or better of passing, Republican state Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey says.
The bill, sponsored by state Sen. Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains, comes up for a state Senate floor vote on Monday.
"If you'd asked me that in January, I'd have said no," Ramsey told reporters this week. "If you ask me now, I think it's at least 50/50."
The bill would end Republican and Democratic U.S. Senate primaries and instead let respective caucuses in the state House and Senate decide. Voters still would decide the general election contest between the nominees.
Lawmakers can't fiddle with the general election because states in 2013 ratified the 17th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and stripped legislatures, which under the original Constitution picked senators.
Niceley says his legislation is intended to help restore the balance between federal power and state sovereignty that was intended by the nation's founding fathers.
"Everyone agrees that Washington is broke," Niceley told Senate State and Local Government Committee members this week. He said his bill will allow lawmakers to "pick a good man or a woman that we know can work with us. ... "
He said the 17th Amendment was passed in a "mad rush" of Progressivism that also saw the establishment of a federal income tax and the Federal Reserve.
States passed the 17th amendment in response to outcries over powerful special interests such as railroads "buying" legislatures' votes in order to get senators of their liking.
In some states like Virginia, party nominations are settled not by voters but by party state executive committees or party conventions.
For complete details, see tomorrow's Chattanooga Times Free Press.