PHOENIX - A freshman Southern Arizona lawmaker is leading the effort to strip Arizona voters of the right to decide who should be a candidate for the U.S. Senate.
But voters will have a say in whether Rep. David Stevens' proposal to let the Legislature decide whose name appears on the ballot becomes law.
Stevens, a Republican from Sierra Vista, wants legislators from each party to pick their party nominees, whose names would then be submitted to voters at the November general election.
He said his measure would be a partial return to the way things were before the 17th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was adopted.
Until then, each state legislature selected its U.S. senators. Voters selected only the folks going to the House of Representatives. The 1913 amendment requires direct election of all members of Congress.
Stevens said that amendment was a mistake. He said the old system ensured that senators were responsive to the desires of state lawmakers.
"The state is supreme over the federal government," he said. "And when they weren't doing what we thought they should be doing, we could recall them at any time."
Although the 17th Amendment takes away that option, Stevens is trying the next best thing: changing the nominating process.
He said HCR 2046 is constitutional because voters still make the final selection. But the 17th Amendment doesn't specify nominating procedures.
Stevens said that if his plan already were law, there might be an entirely different political dynamic in the Republican primary race between incumbent John McCain and challengers J.D. Hayworth and Chris Simcox. The trio would the have to fight it out for the support of the 35 House Republicans and 18 GOP senators instead of the support of voters.
Such a system might favor candidates with less money, such as Hayworth, because they could personally meet with every voter.
Stevens believes voters will go for it.
The plan will get no backing from McCain.
"Senator McCain believes all elections, primary and general, should be decided by the people, as stated in the Constitution," aide Brooke Buchanan said.
Hayworth doesn't back it either, although he's sympathetic to what Stevens is trying to do.
"I believe in states' rights," he said, but "right now I just think it's important for the people to decide."
Simcox said he's not sure if such a change would make the process better. It might help candidates such as himself, whom he described as more loyal to the principles of the party than to the individuals who control the party. But Simcox said he also could see the potential for the system to be co-opted by the party leadership.
For recognized parties that have no members in the Legislature, Stevens' proposal would still provide for a primary.