Los Angeles, California – October 7, 2023
In a surprising move that has ignited debates on the appointment process, California Governor Gavin Newsom recently named Laphonza Butler as the replacement for the late Senator Dianne Feinstein. While Senate appointments are not uncommon, what has raised eyebrows in this instance is the fact that Butler is not a California resident; she calls Maryland her home. Although she did live in California for 12 years, her legal address has been listed as Maryland since 2021.
This situation is not an isolated case of what some may call “carpetbagging” in the 21st century. Prominent figures like Hillary Clinton, Mitt Romney, and Liz Cheney made high-profile moves to different states in pursuit of political careers. However, unlike these candidates who eventually won elections, Dr. Mehmet Oz’s attempt to represent Pennsylvania in the Senate was met with skepticism, partly due to the perception that he was an outsider.
What unites these candidates is their ambition to compete in democratic elections. Butler’s appointment, on the other hand, sets her apart as she was handpicked to represent California, despite being a resident of another state.
When a member of Congress leaves a vacancy, the process for filling it varies between the House and the Senate. In the House, all vacancies trigger a special election set by the state’s governor. In the Senate, it’s a different story.
While four states also require special elections for Senate vacancies, the remaining 46 states allow their governors to appoint interim replacements. The rules governing these appointments vary, from the duration of the interim period to whether governors can freely choose the replacement or must select someone from the outgoing senator’s party.
However, these appointments have not always been free from controversy. The infamous case of Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, who sought bribes from potential Senate replacements after Barack Obama became President, serves as a stark reminder of the pitfalls in the appointment process. Blagojevich was impeached, removed from office, convicted of public corruption, and served eight years in federal prison.
Vacancies in the Senate are not rare occurrences. Since the adoption of the 17th Amendment in 1913, which shifted the responsibility of selecting senators from state legislatures to direct election by the people, 153 senators have passed away in office. The amendment allows governors to appoint replacements, if authorized by their state’s legislature, until the next general election.
While governors are elected representatives of their states, the appointment process is inherently undemocratic. The priorities of those who elected a governor to be their chief executive may not necessarily align with their choices for a senator.
To address these concerns, some argue that state governments should amend their constitutions to align more closely with the U.S. Constitution’s spirit and have senators elected exclusively by the people promptly. Additionally, imposing residency requirements, as mandated in the U.S. Constitution, and implementing term limits could contribute to a more dynamic and representative Senate.
Ultimately, the appointment of Laphonza Butler has brought to light the shortcomings of the current process for replacing U.S. senators. It prompts a conversation about the need for reform to ensure a more democratic and accountable representation in the Senate.
Note: The views expressed in this article are the author’s opinions.