By Nathan Baker
A bill working its way through the Tennessee General Assembly could one day cost Sen. Lamar Alexander a place on the ballot, Elizabethton Rep. Kent Williams warned.
The measure aims to do away with primary elections in Tennessee’s U.S. Senate races and allow state legislators to nominate party candidates for general elections.
Williams said if that legislation becomes law, Alexander may have cause to worry.
“It wouldn’t go into effect until after the 2014 race, but I think he would have a problem getting on the ballot in the next cycle,” Williams said. “That’s one of those cases where a majority of the people in this state love Sen. Alexander, but he doesn’t always walk the party line in Congress. It would be a shame if the state caucus kept him off the ballot.”
The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains, said Thursday that passing the legislation would give the state more of a voice in federal government, partially restoring powers that were stripped by the 17th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1913.
“Before then, the states directly appointed members of the Senate and the people elected members of the House,” Niceley said. “That’s the way the founders wanted it — the states created the federal government, and if it gets bad enough they can abolish it and try to go back to what the founders wanted.”
But the senator said a “progressive movement” in Congress after the turn of the 20th century ushered in legislation enacting a federal income tax, the Federal Reserve Bank and the 17th Amendment, which he said marginalized the powers of the states and increased the federal government’s authority.
“We need to get Washington back under control,” Niceley said, pointing out that Tennessee’s budget is passed each year on time and balanced, while the federal government seems to be ineffectual. “Everyone agrees that it’s broke.”
The Senate bill quickly passed out of the State and Local Government Committee Tuesday with a 7-1 vote and awaits a vote next week on the full floor.
Its companion bill in the House of Representatives met opposition in the State Government Subcommittee from Williams, but was passed by a majority vote for consideration by the committee.
“A lot has changed since 1913,” Williams said Thursday. “In 1913, women and minorities couldn’t even vote. …
“I just don’t think it should be left up to the caucus of either party to decide who gets to run on that ballot for senator. There could be a good candidate for either party, and if the caucus doesn’t want them on the ballot, they wouldn’t be candidates.”