State Representative Travis Grantham speaking with attendees at the 2018 Legislative Forecast Luncheon hosted by the Arizona Chamber of Commerce & Industry at the Sheraton Grand Phoenix in Phoenix, Arizona, January 8, 2018. / Gage Skidmore / Flickr
State Representative Travis Grantham (R-Gilbert) has introduced House Concurrent Resolution 2022 that would amend the Arizona Constitution to eliminate primary elections for the United States Senate. The bill is co-sponsored by one other legislator: Rep. Mark Finchem (R-Tucson).
Rep. Grantham is a freshman lawmaker from legislative district 12, a largely urban district covering part of Gilbert, Queen Creek, and the Gila River Indian Reservation.
Under his bill, “after a public hearing to meet with and consider potential candidates” members the Arizona legislature from each party would choose two nominees to would appear on the November general election ballot. Nominees would be chosen by “a majority vote of the assembled members of each political party caucus.”
Grantham’s bill does not address independents. HCR 2022 says “members of each political party caucus” of the Arizona House and Senate, which would mean that independents in the legislature would not be able to participate in the selection process. There are currently no independent members in the Arizona Senate, but roughly one-third of voters in Arizona voters are registered as independents.
According to Grantham, the current system, which was established in the early 20th-century by the 17th amendment, takes too much power away from state lawmakers.
Originally US senators were chosen by state legislatures. This process led to long vacancies when state lawmakers could not come to an agreement. This system was also plagued with corruption, especially in states with powerful political bosses.
Starting in the 1890s, the House of Representatives passed resolutions to amend the Constitution to provide for direct election of Senators. However, the Senate never passed the resolution, which would have possibly put them in danger of retaining their seats.
Ultimately it was the state legislatures themselves which forced the Senate to acquiesce after many states called for an Article V convention to deal with the issue.
In 1911 Congress passed Joint Resolution 39, which contained the text of the 17th amendment. Two years later, it was ratified by three-fourths of the states and became the 17th amendment to the US Constitution.
The shift to direct election of senators was a shift in political power away from the state legislatures in favor of the voters. Grantham views the shift to greater political power in the hands of citizens as a step too far.
“The problem with the current system is that United States senators really have no accountability back to the state right now,” said Grantham.
Of course with the current system, US senators are accountable to the voters of the whole state. Grantham apparently holds accountability to the citizens of Arizona to be less important than accountability to the 30 members of the Arizona Senate.
Columnist Laurie Roberts at the Arizona Republic sees HCR 2022 as a power grab and an affront to the voters. She argues that “some of our leaders don’t think you’re smart enough to choose for yourself who should go to the U.S. Senate.”
Grantham’s bill has another major flaw. Since four names would appear on the ballot, it would almost certainly lead to a senator being elected without a majority of the vote.
This would be further complicated if a third-party candidate was elected to the Arizona legislature, which would entitle the third-party to two candidates for US Senate.
As with all amendments to the Arizona Constitution, HCR 2022 would have to be approved by the voters if it happens to pass the state legislature. Ultimately it will be the voters of Arizona that will decide whether or not to cede some of their political power to Rep. Grantham and his colleagues.
Edit: the article has been updated to indicate that members of the Arizona House of Representatives and the Arizona Senate would determine the candidates for US Senate, not members of the US House of Representatives from Arizona.