Sen. Russ Fulcher is offering lukewarm support for a divisive tea party tenet — repeal of the 17th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Ratified in 1913, the amendment provides for the direct election of senators by the people rather than by state legislatures.
“I see the argument of that and I’m sympathetic to it,” the challenger to GOP Gov. Butch Otter said in an interview with the Statesman editorial board Tuesday. “I’m a little bit cautious in trying to make that a priority.”
Earlier, Fulcher affirmed his support of repeal as part of his wholesale agreement with the Idaho Republican Party Platform. Fulcher attached a note to the survey, adding, “I believe there is room for legitimate debate regarding repeal of the 17th amendment.”
Returning the power to elect senators to legislatures is a key issue among some tea party followers, a wing of the GOP Fulcher counts on for upsetting the two-term governor. Otter opposes repeal.
But in his Statesman interview, Fulcher further qualified his support, saying repeal wouldn’t get his immediate attention should he defeat Otter in the May 20 primary and win the November general election over A.J. Balukoff.
“Given the scheme of things and the priority system that I see, that would not be at the top of the list for me to try to change,” Fulcher said.
Otter declined to complete the GOP platform survey. Instead, he submitted a letter last week, saying, “I believe repealing the 17th Amendment is unnecessary if the 10th Amendment is fully and properly applied, but discussion and debate on that alternative is healthy for our republic.”
In his editorial board interview Wednesday, Otter said, “I think anything that curtails voting or people’s ability to access their right to vote is a mistake.”
Added Otter: “They want to have a debate about the 17th Amendment. That’s up to them. But you’re going to have to convince people that a few folks deciding who the United States senator is more desirable that the general population.”
(Note: The questions were posed by Marty Peterson, a member of the editorial board. The followup to Fulcher is from me.)
The Idaho Republican Party adopted 17th Amendment repeal as part of its platform in 2010 and reaffirmed the call for repeal in 2012.
“We support restoration of the United States Constitution’s checks and balances that protects the rights and sovereignty of the states by repealing the 17th Amendment,” says the platform.
Interesting fact: Among the most important supporters of the 17th Amendment was Idaho Republican Sen. William Borah, who represented the state for 33 years, longer than any other person.
Borah was elected by the Legislature in 1907 and re-elected in 1912. He was re-elected by voters in 1918, 1924, 1930 and 1936. Borah, who served as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was a fierce foe of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. He sought the GOP nomination for president in 1936, losing to Alf Landon of Kansas. Roosevelt won the second of his four terms over Landon.
Borah, often called the “Lion of Idaho,” remained in the Senate until his death in 1940. He was a celebrated orator. Idaho’s highest mountain is named for him, as is Boise’s second high school.