Thursday, November 29, 2007



by Zack Webber

Lately the United States Senate has become a great source of frustration for those of us who hope to see it turn the country away from the disastrous policies of the Bush regime. Although the Democrats have regained a slim majority since the 2006 elections our Senators have been unable to accomplish as much as we would like. The U.S. Senate is supposed to be the "world's greatest debating club" or something like that, but it looks to me like the least democratic legislative body this side of the House of Lords.

By claiming to represent states equally, it treats U.S. citizens wildly unequally. If you live in Wyoming, you have two Senators for half a million people. Here in California we have two Senators for around 37.5 million people, which means we have 75 times less voting power per person than the Wyomingites. If you live in D.C., Puerto Rico, or the other territories you have no voice at all in the Senate (and only nonvoting delegates in the House of Representatives). There are many small states, and while I appreciate the progressive Democratic and Independent Senators from Vermont (Leahy and Sanders), I can't help but feel cheated by the state system. When the Constitution was established the largest was only six times the population of the smallest. Now it is way out of line. There is no real hope of changing this part of the Constitution so maybe the best thing would be for California to subdivide into about ten states. As soon as we have a Democratic President, D.C. (which has a larger population than Wyoming or Alaska and almost as many people as Vermont) should be admitted as the 51st state and Puerto Rico (if it wants to be a state) as the 52nd.

The peculiar rules of the Senate make it even harder to accomplish anything. It takes 60 votes to be able to stop debate and vote on an issue. If debate cannot be stopped it usually will not get started because Senators don't want to waste their valuable time. The Senate was created to limit the ability of the government to act and as it has evolved it has become even more of a hindrance to change. There may be a small possibility of changes in the rules and customs of the Senate but not while it is as closely divided as it is currently. There are now 49 Democratic Senators, 49 Repubs and two independents who caucus with the Democrats (although Sen. Lieberman, I-CT votes with the GOP on foreign policy.) It is a situation where the Dems have an organizational majority but not a real working majority.

2008 is the opportunity. We Democrats are almost certain to pick up Senate seats next year because of the political landscape. The Greedy Old Party is following Bush over a cliff by continuing to support his unpopular policies on the Iraq war and misguided domestic priorities. No longer in the majority, they lag behind the Democrats in fundraising. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has about twice as much cash-on-hand as the Repub committee. [DSCC reported $23.4 million cash on hand at the end of October, compared with $9.5 million for the NRSC.] There will be only 12 Democratic seats up for election in 2008 compared to 23 GOP seats. All of the Democrats are running for reelection and only two are even remotely vulnerable (Johnson, D-SD and Landrieu, D-LA), and are still favored to win. There will be at least five GOP open seats (VA, NM, CO, NE, and ID) and maybe more if other GOP Senators decide that life in the minority is no fun [or if Ted Stevens of Alaska is indicted]. The most likely gain is in VA where Mark Warner (D), a popular former Governor is almost certain to beat Jim Gilmore (R), his predecessor as Governor who left the state a giant mess. Cousins Mark Udall (D-CO, son of Morris Udall) and Tom Udall (D-NM, son of Stewart Udall) may both win promotions from House to Senate. In NM all three House members are running for Senate so we may pick up one or both of the GOP seats there. Some GOP incumbents may lose as well. Sen. John Sununu running way behind in the polls against former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen in what is becoming Blue Hampshire. Norm Coleman (R-MN) is in a tossup race for his first reelection, whether or not Al Franken is his Democratic opponent. Even the Repub Senate leader, McConnell of KY could have a tough race in a state where more people currently view him unfavorably than favorably (47% to 44% 11/07). There will be other strong Democratic challengers in states across the country from Maine to Oregon and even Oklahoma and Alaska. The conventional wisdom is that the Dems will gain 3 or 4 seats but we could do much better, getting close to the magic 60 seats. If that happens we will start to see some positive changes in the Senate.

[Ed- The best of the Democratic field so far, Andrews Rice, Tom Allen, and Rick Noriega have been endorsed by Blue America and you can learn more about them-- and how to help them oversome Bush rubber stamps Inhofe, Collins and Cornyn-- at the link a few words back.]



At 5:38 PM, Anonymous Al said...

You must realize that the Senate was never meant to represent the "people" but rather the States. So what is all this crying about California and Wyoming?

You should just be glad that the 17th amendment took naming of Senators out of the hands of State Legislatures.

At 6:03 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

States Rights died after Lincoln started his war against them.

At 8:05 AM, Anonymous Zack from the SFV said...

Al, I know that the Constitution meant the Senate to represent states rather than individual citizens. It had other provisions like counting Black folks as three-fifths of a person for reapportionment purposes. Some things are no longer valid or considered to be just. At the time the Constitution was created the ratio between the populations of the smallest and largest states was about 1 to 6. Now it is a much wider spread, which has a strong effect on policies adopted by the government. Simply put, there are more small states that elect rightwingers like Senator Tubes (R-corruption) than the Senators from Vermont. I suggested that we should add another more progressive small state or two to balance it out a bit.
I am a Californian; I don't like being underrepresented. I know that isn't going to change anytime soon, but I don't have to be happy about it.
Actually Wyoming has about two and a half Senators right now because if there is a tie vote, VP "Tricky Dick" Cheney gets to vote. It's easy and fun to pick on WY, though there are some good people there. (I support Gary Trauner for the only WY House seat).

At 3:42 PM, Anonymous Al said...

You are represented exactly as the framers intended you to be represented. Actually, the 17th amendment gave you an additional voice in the Government.

The framers were not as dumb as you think. Can't you see that the The House of Representatives is the body meant to represent the people of California? Your state has 50+ votes and Wyoming has 1 vote.

Do you not believe the be balance of powers built into our government.

Can you not see that were it not for the Senate, not a single dollar of federal money would ever be spent in Wyoming?

At 12:18 PM, Anonymous Zack from the SFV said...

My state has almost forty million people living in it. I think independence for the California Republic might be the best bet, but that isn't any more likely than constitutional change.

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