NASHVILLE — A bill to give Tennessee lawmakers the power to decide the nominees for the state’s U.S. Senate seats was withdrawn Tuesday until next year after Republican Gov. Bill Haslam said he had a “major problem” with the proposal.
The governor told reporters he objects to eliminating primary elections to decide Republican and Democratic nominees for the U.S. Senate, and said he would “very strongly” consider a veto of the measure if it was passed by the Legislature.
“I have a major problem with that in the sense that we’re going to take the selection of a United States senator out of the hands of the people of Tennessee and have a few folks decide who that should be,” Haslam said. “That just doesn’t feel right to me.”
Rep. Harry Brooks, R-Knoxville, announced a short time later in a House committee that he wanted to delay consideration of the bill until next year. The panel approved the motion without debate.
Sen. Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains, had previously put a full Senate vote on the measure on hold until the final calendar of the year. He has said the bill is an effort to return to the system closer to the direct appointments that were in place before the adoption of the 17th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1913.
The bill wouldn’t take effect until after the 2014 elections, meaning it wouldn’t apply to U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander’s re-election bid next year, but could affect fellow Republican Sen. Bob Corker’s next campaign.
Corker told reporters in Nashville he wouldn’t take a position on the bill, but said Tennessee voters like the ability to have a say in the nominees. He also said the contested Republican primary in 2006 was a good learning experience for him.
“Going through that process really does make you a better candidate and I think it causes people to get to know you,” Corker said. “Our race in 2006 was a national race that the whole country watched and I think it was important for me anyway to have gone through that process.”