Some Legislators Pushing to End U.S. Senate Elections

For politicos, Indiana's 2012 U.S. Senate primary and election had it all: Drama. Faction rivalries. Gaffes. But if it was up to some legislators, the ultimate victor would not be left up to the general voting public.

Some Georgia Republicans are seeking a repeal of the 17th Amendment, and want state legislators to start appointing Senators in order to bring more power back to the states. The Huffington Post writes:

The resolution calls on Congress to begin the process of repealing the 17th Amendment, passed in 1913, which provided for the direct election of senators. State Rep. Kevin Cooke (R-Carrollton), the main sponsor of the resolution, told the Douglas County Sentinel that moving the power back to state legislatures would allow for the original intent of the Constitution.

“It’s a way we would again have our voice heard in the federal government, a way that doesn’t exist now,” Cooke told the paper. “This isn’t an idea of mine. This was what James Madison was writing. This would be a restoration of the Constitution, about how government is supposed to work.”

In the text of the resolution, Cooke cites Madison's writing in the Federalist Papers, specifying that members of the Senate would be "elected absolutely and exclusively by state legislatures."

The resolution says the 17th Amendment has prevented state governments from having a say in federal government and that repealing the amendment would hold U.S. senators accountable to the states. The federal government has grown in "size and scope," it says, in the century since the amendment was adopted.

The 17th Amendment was adopted out of concern for state-level corruption influencing Senate elections, which Cooke said would not be the case now.

“It’s the responsibility of each and every citizen to make sure of who gets elected to office, that they’re principled people,” Cooke told the Douglas County Sentinel. “You can look at the current state of ethics and transparency. Anybody has the ability to look at money being donated to campaigns. It would keep anything from being done out of the public eye.”

NLRB Keeps Charging Ahead Blindly

In the regulatory mess that is Washington today, the leader of the ridiculous pack just might be the National Labor Relations Board.

With union membership continuing to decline to historically low levels, the NLRB has apparently determined it will do whatever it can to help slow the erosion. It has shown no pretense of fairness in its decisions over the past four years with its rulings also often having major impacts on non-union employers.

In January, a U.S. Court of Appeals threw out three of President Obama's NLRB appointees, raising questions about the legality of recent rulings. Those same people have now been renominated by the President, so the drama continues.

The latest partisan action regards union dues expenditures. The National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) provides this summary:

A case currently before the NLRB could significantly alter the current way in which employees can exercise their Beck rights to object  to union dues’ expenditures.  According to the U.S. Supreme Court, in the Beck decision, employees can object to a portion of union dues’ expenditures if the dues are being used to fund political activity not related to collective bargaining or contract administration.  In a recent case, the United Nurses and Allied Professionals (Kent Hospital) and Jeanette Geary, however, the NLRB decided an employee, who objected to the union’s expenditures, did not deserve to have any verification showing proof how the union was spending its funds.
 
The NLRB proposes to go a step further to give the unions the upper hand by presuming the union is, indeed, spending all the dues correctly.  The effect would be the Board is telling employees they have to prove the union is spending money on lobbying and political activity with no means of independently verifying the union claims.
 
The Board’s new idea would unfairly and unnecessarily stack the deck against employees who have to pay dues, but disagree with the union politically.  Under the proposal, any lobbying activity the union would engage in on Capitol Hill, down to state and local seats of government, would go unchecked.
 

 

Hamilton’s Take on Our Nation’s Future

Lee Hamilton asked and answered a most important question to an audience of nearly 500 people at Wednesday night’s 2012 Indiana Chamber Legislative Dinner.

The presentation from the 80-year old former Indiana congressman and longtime statesman was titled “Can This Nation Long Endure?” It was the same question Abraham Lincoln posed 149 years ago in his famed Gettysburg Address. (Hamilton noted that the prayer opening that event was longer than Lincoln’s three-minute talk, a speech that Hamilton once had recited to him word-for-word in Beijing by the president of China).

Today’s response, according to Hamilton: “The answer lies with you and me. There are plenty of good reasons to get frustrated and angry. My guess, my hope, is that Americans will accept the burden and challenge and make the adjustments necessary to ensure that American long endures.”

Hamilton outlined the negatives. They include the polls (83% worried about our nation’s future and only 19% who believe the U.S. will continue to be the most powerful country in the world), the headlines from respected publications ("The End of Western Dominance"; "Is America Done?") and the scholars who question whether American is “coming apart,” among other concerns.

The path to the future, however, lies in our past.

“Our challenges are formidable but not unmanageable … our problems are discouraging, not crippling,” explains Hamilton, noting the durability of our Constitution for more than 200 years. “Our public institutions may be under some stress, but they have stood the test of time. We have a multitude of talented people dedicated to the public good.

“In return for our freedom is responsibility; in return for liberty is obligation. What’s more important than what we think about our nation’s future is what we do about it. We need leaders who give us straight talk about the true nature of our problems and solutions on how to deal with them.

“We don’t need a new system of government,” Hamilton concludes. “We need a renewed willingness to make what we have work.”

Hamilton, who represented Indiana in Washington from 1965 to 1999, is currently director of The Center on Congress at Indiana University, a non-partisan educational institution seeking to improve the public’s understanding of Congress. 

Need to Close the Door on DISCLOSE Again

The Supreme Court ruled earlier this year (in Citizens United vs. FEC) that company (and employee) voices were being unfairly silenced by the campaign finance rules that were in place. Democrats in Congress didn’t like what they heard so they attempted to make their way around the decision by coming up with the DISCLOSE Act. For those that care, the acronym (who has the job of coming up with these things) stands for Democracy is Strengthened by Casting Light on Spending in Elections.

Fortunately, the effort fell short of the 60 Senate votes needed to proceed. But bad ideas (in this case one of the worst ones to come down the pike in a long time, and that’s saying something in a city filled with questionable policy proposals) don’t simply go away. Indiana Chamber members communicated their displeasure the first time around.

CongressDaily reports the latest:

The DISCLOSE Act will head back to the floor for a vote when the Senate returns next month, according to spokespeople for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., the bill’s lead sponsor.

The measure would implement strict disclosure laws on campaign ads, require corporate leaders to appear in ads much like candidates and severely restrict foreign-owned companies and those that do business with the government. 

Senate Dems and their reform-advocate allies are targeting Sens. Scott Brown, R-Mass., Olympia Snowe, R-Maine and Susan Collins, R-Maine, all of whom voted against cloture last month. The 3 GOPers said the bill was rushed in an attempt to influence the ’10 midterms on Dems’ behalf.

Now, though, reform advocates believe they have removed that most significant objection all 3 GOPers had. If the measure is passed in late Sept. or early Oct., it would not go into effect until after the midterms.

Senate leaders have told their House counterparts that they will bring the bill up again, and that they may let GOPers block it one more time in order to score political points. But after the bill fails, reform groups and senators who back the DISCLOSE Act will try to convince potential GOP allies to join them in passing the bill so it might be implemented after the midterms.

Still, Snowe, Collins and Brown will face pressure from their leader even after it becomes clear the bill wouldn’t impact the midterms. Senate Minority Leader McConnell has been a vocal opponent of the DISCLOSE Act, labeling it a ploy to benefit Dems. McConnell has been successful in keeping his conference together on most controversial votes, making the bill’s prospects uncertain.

Dems also have to deal with Sens. Dianne Feinstein , D-Calif., and Frank Lautenberg , D-N.J., both of whom are opposed to a carve-out that exempts the NRA from certain disclosure provisions. Holman said there is an understanding that the 2 Dems would vote for cloture, getting Dems over the 60 votes required to move the bill to final passage, but then Lautenberg and Feinstein could vote against the final package. Lautenberg and Feinstein both voted for cloture when the bill first came up on July 27.

Blame the Constitution for Capping House Size

I admit it. I’ve never given much thought to the number of people serving in the House of Representatives. I have no idea why there are 435, but that’s the way it’s been for the last century since Congress capped the size following the 1910 census. It all goes back to the Constitution, which specifies a maximum – but no minimum – total count.

As you can imagine, that’s caused some controversy over the years. Check out some of the details from Congress.org :

"The Constitution states that the number of representatives is one for every 30,000 people. How is it now limited to 435?" 

You’re right. The Constitution states that "the Number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty thousand, but each state shall have at least one representative."

With a current U.S. population of over 300 million, that would work out to about 10,000 representatives – not to mention the chiefs of staff, legislative analysts and spokesmen for each of them.

Until the 20th century, the size of the House increased after each census to reflect the growth in the country’s population. Over time, the growth in new states and the country’s population threatened to make the House too large to be a workable legislative body (insert your own joke here) in the views of many in D.C.

After the 1910 census, Congress fixed the size of the House at 435, where it remains today. Congress later made the cap official when it passed the Permanent Apportionment Act of 1929, which also established a procedure for automatically reapportioning seats after every census.

Under reapportionment, California’s delegation has grown from 11 members in the 1920s to 53 today. Florida, Texas and Arizona have also seen similar exponential jumps. Ohio, on the other hand, has gone from a high of 24 representatives to 18, while Pennsylvania has dropped from 36 to 19.

Free Speech for All

Look at most polls and you’ll see voters are in a surly mood and wanting to boot incumbents out of office. So no one should have been surprised that congressional leadership wants to move fast to pass new restrictions on speech by those who might disagree with them.

It’s called the Democracy Is Strengthened by Casting Light on Spending in Elections, or “DISCLOSE Act.”  A long and cute title, but the bill is really designed to put duct tape over the mouths of businesses and trade associations. Labor unions and trial lawyers get a pass in the bill, an important preferential treatment with real election impacts.

For-profit corporations doing federal contract business, taking TARP money, or with as little as 20% overseas ownership would be flatly shut-out of making campaign communications. CEOs of any other corporations who tried to speak up would have to go on camera in any advertisement saying they approved the ad and could face criminal complaints. Independent expenditure ads by businesses and associations would be blocked from being on the air from April through November in Indiana.

For decades, federal campaign finance rules and “reform” packages like McCain-Feingold were crafted with some balance for corporations and labor unions. The DISCLOSE Act abandons this important balance and bipartisanship. There was no attempt at a bipartisan approach here, particularly with the current chair of the House Democrat Campaign Committee (Rep. Van Hollen) and immediate past chair of the Senate campaign committee (Sen. Chuck Schumer) actually authoring the bill.

Businesses and trade associations have First Amendment free speech rights, as reinforced by the U.S. Supreme Court in the landmark Citizens United ruling last year. That pesky First Amendment getting in the way of politicians again.

You can take action in fighting this legislation via the Indiana Prosperity Project.

Ball State Study Examines Complex Issue of Schools and Social Media

Ball State University sent out a press release last week titled, "Study: Principals want to rein in student digital communications." It’s very interesting, so we thought we’d share:

MUNCIE, Ind. – Most high school administrators believe they have the right to control student messaging on and off school grounds even while social networking and digital communications have exploded in popularity among teens, says a new study from Ball State University.

A national survey of about 400 high school principals and administrators found that principals not only want to control e-mail, instant messaging, texting and Web sites, but also have the ability to punish students for irresponsible communications conducted outside of school.

"Principals are very apprehensive when it comes to digital communications, the Internet and certainly any types of emerging media that teens will embrace," said Warren Watson, director of J-Ideas, the First Amendment education institute at Ball State. He co-authored the study with Adam Maksl, a Ball State journalism instructor, and Vincent Filak, a former Ball State journalism professor now at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh.

The survey is part of a longitunal study that examines high school principals’ attitudes regarding free expression between 2004 and 2009. This was the first time principals were asked about their opinion on digital communications.

Watson said many principals indicated the urge to control communications among today’s teens, who have grown up in a world of cell phones, laptop computers and on-demand digital services.

"Many principals are much older and simply don’t want to deal with any type of digital communications," Watson said. "They wish it would all go away, but when a perceived problem pops up, they feel like they have to do something. So, they often punish first and ask questions later." Continue reading

States: Feds Going Too Far in Power Grab

Texas Gov. Rick Perry raised a few eyebrows this spring with comments that were intrepeted as a secession threat. In brief, he said: "We’ve got a great union. There’s absolutely no reason to dissolve it. But if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, you know, who knows what might come out of that."

Lawmakers in Texas and Georgia have also uttered that "s" word. More importantly, however, a number of other states have reignited the issue of federal control vs. states’ rights. It is a valid issue and one that Politico frames in this interesting article.

Constitution Scholar Speaks at Economic Club Lunch

Gordon Lloyd, coauthor of three books on the American founding and author of two forthcoming publications on political economy, addressed over 600 Economic Club of Indiana luncheon attendees yesterday.

During his speech, Lloyd surmised the Constitution could be broken down into a four-act drama:

  • Act I – The Alternative Plans (Madison-Sherman’s exchange; Hamilton’s Plan, etc.)
  • Act II – The Connecticut Compromise
  • Act III – The Committee of Detail Report (structure and power of Congress; the issue of slavery)
  • Act IV – The End (the eventual signing of the document)

When discussing the problems facing today’s America, Lloyd makes one point above all else: America’s greatest detriment is the crisis mentality. He contends that patience is often sacrificed when presidential advisors and others panic, and language then turns to "a language of war" – and supercedes cerebral debate.

He also makes the distinction that greed needn’t be part of capitalism, and that self interest is more the goal. Lloyd added that skewing toward socialism will only exacerbate our problems, not end them — a point he made to the applause of those in attendance.

When asked about the role of the presidency, he offered that both Herbert Hoover and Franklin D. Roosevelt were too tempted by progressive movements of the day to grow the presidency beyond its intended scope of power. According to Lloyd, this power has come at the expense of Congress and thrown off the balance in our system.

Lloyd’s web site on the founding of the Constitution is used by schools across the country to teach about the Constitutional Convention and the document itself. Peruse the site here.

The Economic Club’s next lunch will be held on Tuesday, April 7 and will feature education policy expert Lance Izumi. For more info or to order tickets, visit the web site.

Differential Property Tax Caps and the Indiana Constitution (Why We’re Still Opposed)

Late last summer, the Indiana Chamber tax policy committee revisited the issue that is currently being debated again by the newly elected General Assembly. Should the 1%-2%-3% (of assessed value) tax caps be enshrined in our Indiana Constitution? Based on a policy position that has been in place for many years, the Chamber opposed SJR 1 last year, and the committee concluded that there is no reason to change that well-founded position.

So, what’s so bad about tax caps? Nothing if they were the same for all taxpayers. But the fundamental problem here is that the caps are different for different taxpayers. The resolution to change our Constitution (SJR 1) proposes replacing the language that says that all taxpayers will be guaranteed assessments and tax bills that are “uniform and equal” with language that says properties with equal market values will be taxed differently based on how the property is used. The 1%-2%-3% caps establish a “classified” property tax system. This is what our longstanding position opposes. A review of other states’ property tax structures reveals that classified systems serve as a means to tax business property at a higher rate, and therefore higher burden, than other property types.

This is the root of our opposition.

We believe that the founding fathers of our state got it right when they worded our Constitution to say that property of equal value will be assessed and taxed the same regardless of how the owner chooses to use it. In the simplest terms, what the proposed constitutional amendment would do is to sanction, endorse and make permanent a system that says owners of business commercial and industrial real property, and business personal property (machinery and equipment) can and will be taxed up to three times greater – merely because it is used for business purposes – than what some other property owners will be taxed on equally valued property. Is this something the Legislature and the citizenry should be supporting? Is this the message we want to send in difficult economic times to those considering whether to expand their operations in Indiana? Continue reading