Columnist George F. Will opposes my proposed constitutional amendment, which would prevent governors from filling U.S. Senate vacancies with their handpicked choices ("More Feingold Folly," Feb. 23). But he also reveals his jaw-dropping contempt for democracy, as well as the 17th Amendment itself, which beginning in 1913 required the direct election of senators. "It would be better to repeal it," he says.
Prompted by scandal, the 17th Amendment was an important step in our nation's progress toward full democracy. Nine cases of bribery came before the Senate between 1866 and 1906, including a celebrated case from the state of Illinois. And between 1891 and 1905, the state legislatures from 20 different states deadlocked 45 times when trying to pick a senator. At one point, a Senate seat from Delaware remained vacant for four years because of deadlocks. While the Framers got a lot right, their decision to deny the people the right to choose their senators has not stood the test of time.
Nearly a hundred years after the 17th Amendment was ratified, there can be little doubt that the amendment was a good idea -- but that allowing governors to still pick temporary replacement senators was a mistake. My proposed constitutional amendment is the best way to avoid a repeat of the Blagojevich scandal, the circus surrounding the New York vacancy and the temptation for political gamesmanship evident in other cases.
Mr. Will is right about one thing: I share the early 20th-century progressives' belief that more democracy, not less, is the best way to fulfill the promise of our Constitution. Requiring that all senators be elected by the people is an idea whose time has come.
SEN. RUSS FEINGOLD
The writer is a Democrat from Wisconsin.