Bill would give state legislators approval of U.S. Senate candidates

The bill also could eliminate third party, independent candidates

A bill under consideration in the Arizona legislature would require legislative approval of candidates for the U.S. Senate. Senators Jeff Flake and John McCain, shown here at a 2014 campaign event in Prescott, currently represent Arizona in the U.S. Senate.

Photo by Les Stukenberg.

A bill under consideration in the Arizona legislature would require legislative approval of candidates for the U.S. Senate. Senators Jeff Flake and John McCain, shown here at a 2014 campaign event in Prescott, currently represent Arizona in the U.S. Senate.

PHOENIX — A first-term state lawmaker wants to curb the ability of voters to choose who the state sends to the U.S. Senate.

The proposal by Rep. Travis Grantham, R-Gilbert, would leave intact the general election process, in which voters get the last word. In fact, he can’t touch that as the 17th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which took effect in 1913, requires that senators be directly elected.

But Grantham’s HCR 2022 would limit their choices in November to only those candidates that state legislators from each major party determine are worthy. As crafted, the measure would limit those choices to Republicans and Democrats. The bill contains no method for minor parties to name their candidates and no way for independents to run in the general election unless they somehow got the blessing and nomination of partisan legislators.

Grantham said change is needed.

“The problem with the current system is that United States senators really have no accountability back to the state right now,” Grantham told Capitol Media Services.

“I don’t have any day-to-day, week-to-week, or, quite honestly, year-to-year contact with my U.S. senator,” he said.

“I don’t meet with them; I don’t get to talk to them,” Grantham continued. “And it’s a problem because they’re supposed to be our voice back in Washington.”

It wasn’t always that way.

Prior to the 17th Amendment, senators were chosen by state legislatures. Grantham said this was meant to be a check and balance on the power of the popularly elected members of the House of Representatives.

And Grantham said it created something else: a need of senators to recognize they were beholden to state lawmakers.

His bill would move part-way back to that process — at least as far as the 17th Amendment would allow.

Under the plan, the Republicans from both the state House and Senate would get together and nominate two people, with the Democrats doing the same. Voters in November would then get their choice from among those four.

The same process would play out every six years as the terms were up. More to the point, the incumbent would have to make the case to legislators that he or she deserves another shot at reelection.

“There’s a very good chance that that person may not get the nomination if they did not work with the state, do things that were in the state’s best interests, and truly serve as a check and balance over the popularly elected House of Representatives that they’re supposed to serve as,” Grantham said.

To get the change he wants, Grantham needs to do more than convince his legislative colleagues to go along.

His proposal would amend the Arizona Constitution, and that requires voter ratification. But Grantham said he thinks voters could be persuaded to see that the current system of direct nomination of senators does not always get them the best -- and most responsive -- senators.

And what of the state’s two current senators, John McCain and Jeff Flake, both Republicans, as is Grantham?

“Both of our senators have done a lot of great things,” he said. “And they’ve both done things that I think some of us don’t agree with down here.”

But Grantham insisted his plan has nothing to do with either of the incumbents.

“It has everything to do with the process and accountability and being able to actually reach in to the United States Senate from the state that they represent and say, ‘Hey, Senator X, hey Senator Y, we need this help, we need this issue worked on, we need to work with you directly,’ “ he said.

“That is not happening right now,” Grantham continued. “And in my opinion, that’s a broken system.”

His measure has not yet been set for a hearing.