That other election

With the enormous emphasis focused on the upcoming presidential election (often referred to as the most important election of our lifetime), the Senatorial elections have not received the attention they probably deserve.

If the U.S. governmental system works the way it should, the senators as a group should wield almost as much power as the president. That is, of course, if the system functions the way the framers intended.

Like the Electoral College, some parts of the U.S. political system only make the news when they are not working correctly.

Senate holds the power to declare war for a reason: to stop one man, the president, from wielding too much power. The Senate also has to sign off on candidates filling cabinet-level positions in the White House. Some Senators, divided into groups, also control most of the funds that keep the wheels of our government turning as part of appropriations committees.

Naturally, the system of checks and balances does not always work in the intended way. When President George W. Bush deemed a war with Iraq necessary, the Senate signed off on it too quickly. Some raised concerns, but most senators voted on handing over the Senate’s power to declare war to the president without much objection. Granted, many senators now contend they did not have time enough to evaluate all the data given to them (or time enough to see that there was no data backing up the claims Bush so strongly touted), but why did they not simply say “wait a second, this is important” and ask for more time? Had the Senate acted differently, the war in Iraq may have never happened. It is therefore a big deal how the makeup of this group is influenced.

The final decision to go to war was Bush’s alone, but the Senate’s mistake to hand over the power to make the decision illustrated just how important the Senate’s role is. Also, even if Bush comes out on top in November’s election, a clear Democratic majority in the Senate could do much to offset it, as most policies have to be agreed upon by the senators.

In this election, Florida presents a unique situation (no surprise there). While Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is a Republican, both Senate seats are in the hands of Democrats: Senator Bill Frist was elected to Congress in the fateful 2000 election and is not up for re-election until 2006. Florida’s Senior Senator Bob Graham, however, is retiring from political office at the end of the year and his seat is up for grabs.

For USF students, the election to fill the seat Graham will vacate at the end of the year is made more interesting, as the most likely outcome of Tuesday’s primary is that former USF President Betty Castor will be the Senatorial candidate for the Democratic Party.

Her debate with fellow Democrat Peter Deutsch over her handling of Sami al-Arian has heated up the race quite a bit recently and grabbed some headlines. But overall, the lack of news coverage, not to mention public sinterest, is somewhat appalling.

Other states like Illinois, where equally important Senate seats are opening up at the end of the year, have less trouble garnering public interest.

Republican Jack Ryan had to bow out of the race in Illinois when ex-wife Jeri Ryan (yes, the same one that played “Seven of Nine” on Star Trek: Voyager) claims that he had forced her to visit sex clubs during their marriage were made public.

Such stories sell, I guess, but isn’t the question of our nation’s political future of enough interest without sex scandals?

The Democratic contender for the seat, Barack Obama, naturally got quite a boost through his opponent’s political demise and is now likely to win. But as the speech Obama gave at the Democratic Convention in Boston in July clearly showed, Obama is a stellar public speaker with an even better political vision and should not need sex scandals (or rather the lack thereof) to take the spotlight.

The lack of interest may in part have to do with our sound byte-oriented news coverage and the complex nature of our political system. But the main problem appears to be that there is no clear “winner takes all” event, as the Senate’s operations are much more nuanced than this.

Sebastian Meyer is a junior majoring in geography and the Oracle Opinion editor.