Raul Labrador and Vaughn Ward
Raul Labrador and Vaughn Ward

TREASURE VALLEY — Frontrunner Republican congressional candidates who want to take election of U.S. senators away from a public vote have surprised some political observers.

First Congressional District candidates Raul Labrador and Vaughn Ward both said they want to repeal the 17th Amendment of 1913. The amendment to the Constitution took elections of U.S. senators away from state legislatures and put them in the hands of the public.

Idaho Democratic Party Executive Director Jim Hansen calls Ward’s and Labrador’s position on the issue “bizarre” and “odd.”

But Ward and Labrador say it’s a state’s rights issue. The 17th Amendment has contributed to an erosion of state’s rights and to a too-powerful federal government, Ward said.

“The state’s don’t seem to have any decision-making ability,” Ward said. “Our leaders and the people of Idaho are frustrated with this constant interference from the federal government.”

Labrador and Ward, along with Harley D. Brown, are running in the May 25 GOP primary for Democratic Rep. Walt Minnick’s seat. Minnick responded to the Tea Party Boise survey with a statement that included his opposition to repealing the 17th Amendment.

Making a point

The amendment will not be repealed, Ward said. But bringing up the issue makes a point.

Ward also said he may be reluctant to move ahead with any effort to repeal the amendment without public support.

Labrador said in a Boise Tea Party candidate survey he would support the repeal of the 17th Amendment.

“(But) he doesn’t want to make a big deal of it in terms of advancing any further support structure,” Labrador spokesman Dennis Mansfield said Tuesday.

Congressman Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, proposed repealing the 17th Amendment in March.

The 17th Amendment was ratified in order to more democratize our political system, College of Idaho political economy department chairman Jasper LiCalzi said.

“It’s hard to believe they want to say the people can’t make this decision,” LiCalzi said. “The whole history of this country has been one of giving more power to our people, and this would be the first time we’ve stepped (back).”

Constitutional position

Labrador said repealing the 17th Amendment is the constitutional position to take on the issue.

“The Idaho Legislature would be a great way for us to respond to the people of Idaho,” Labrador said.

Caldwell Tea Party activist Tom Munds agrees with the two candidates. Munds is running in the Republican primary for state representative in District 11 against incumbent Carlos Bilbao. He said election of U.S. senators by legislatures was the Founding Fathers’ intent.

“I believe that it (the amendment) changes the form of our republican form of government and makes more of a democracy,” Munds said.

Ward and Labrador’s position on the issue shows just how unqualified they are to represent Idaho in Congress, Hansen said.

“All the issues facing this state ... and they’re worried about turning back a century of electing U.S. senators by direct vote and turning it over to the Legislature,” Hansen said. “Clearly they’re out of touch with what’s affecting people’s lives.”

Other views on vote

Idaho U.S. Senators Mike Crapo and Jim Risch, both Republicans, also support the 17th Amendment, their spokesmen said Tuesday. So does Idaho District 2 Congressman Mike Simpson, also a Republican.

The presence of the Tea Party movement and its possible influence on the Republican Party could have something to do with Vaughn Ward and Raul Labrador’s stance on the issue, Boise State University Department of Public Policy and Administration Chair Stephanie Witt said.

“I would like to know if the public would like to lose control of saying who their senators are going to be,” Witt said. “My guess is they would not.”

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