Sunday, August 23, 2009

Small state Senators -- scourge or menace?

Joan McCarter, writing under the handle mcjoan on Daily Kos, had a great piece today about the undue influence of small state Senators:

Wyoming's Senators are starting to talk tough on killing cap-and-trade legislation recently passed in the House of Representatives. That'll mean Mike Enzi will have to take some time out of his schedule killing healthcare reform, which he has been pursuing mightily for months, along with colleagues from North Dakota, New Mexico, Iowa, Maine, and of course Max Baucus from Montana. A handful of Senators, representing less than three percent of the nation's total population, have the ability to obstruct must-pass legislation that the rest of the nation is clamoring for. That is, unless another small state Senator, Harry Reid, decides to bypass them.

The nation's founders intended the Senate to be the deliberative body, the careful body that would provide the check on the unruly mob that the House would likely become on the one hand, and the potential tyrant the executive might become on the other. What we ended up with is the least democratic body in our republic. It means that, as Nate Silver points out, "A voter in Wyoming -- population 533,000 -- has about 70 times more ability to influence the Senate's direction than one in California -- population 36.8 million."

Read the entire diary at

Mcjoan is a Westerner, so I tend to take her comments more seriously than I would comments from some Coaster. She makes some great points. She nails Sen. Enzi and Sen. Barrasso on cap-and-trade and Sen. Enzi on health care reform.

Her main question remains: why do Senators that represent such small rural constituencies have such undue influence over legislation that affects 300 million Americans. Is it the Senate itself? The seniority system? Lopsided majorities of Republican voters in states such as Wyoming, North Dakota and Idaho? All of the above? Or something else?

At last count, McJoan's post on Daily Kos had generated some 270 comments. A few were from Wyomingites -- but not many. Wyoming is a mystery to most liberals. Hell, Wyoming is a mystery to those of us who live here. So how to explain the impossibility of electing Dems to the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate?

My comment to McJoan's post:

After Wyoming Democrats got stomped in 2008, I decided I would no longer work on campaigns of Dems running for our two seats in the Senate and our lone U.S. House seat. Wyomingites voted the straight party line. Since registered Repubs outnumber registered Dems 2-1, we got our asses kicked.

My time spent working for Gary Trauner's race for the U.S. House would have been much better spent on Dems running for the state legislature. Our county is the most populous in the state and we have lots of registered Dems and some great legislative candidates. We're also on a winning streak.

My volunteer time would have would also have been better spent traveling with Dem pals to presidential battleground counties in Colorado: Weld and Larimer. As you know, Colorado went for Obama. He's now president. I keep waiting for him to say to Enzi and Baucus and Conrad: "You're irrelevant dinosaurs. We shall pass our progressive agenda without you."

What about it, Prez? When are you going to say -- and do -- what we elected you for?

Yes, people in Wyoming voted for you too. We were at your pre-caucus Laramie speech in which you spoke of real health care reform. "Change," in other words.

Wyoming progressives feel doubly cheated. Not only do we live in a red state with nobody representing our views in D.C. But we have a U.S. Senator holding up Obama's progressive agenda on health care reform.

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