Citizen Legislators can End the California Crisis

John Cox
California-based Businessman and Former Illinois Republican Official

The current political system has brought our wonderful Golden State to a point of crisis. Years of over-regulation, deficit spending, government debt and political gridlock have led to businesses fleeing, unemployment soaring, and quality of life declining.

The outcomes are depressingly familiar. But a new structural solution is emerging and finding favor.

The cause of the problem is our unrepresentative government. Special interests, lobbyists and campaign donors control our government, not the voting citizens..

California has 40 Senators and 80 Representatives in its Assembly, the same number as it had in 1879, when the state had under 1,000,000 residents. Back then, there were a little over 10,000 persons per representative. Today, California has over 37 million people and each member of the Assembly represents a district that ranges from several hundred thousand persons to over 1,000,000, larger than some states.

These huge districts compel candidates for the Assembly to raise huge sums of money and spend most of their time fundraising and campaigning. They can’t devote their time and efforts to getting to know their districts and constituents, and so they can’t represent us. They spend their time and effort currying favor with big donors and monied special interests. As a result, the donors and special interest groups command inordinate power in Sacramento, and bend the political process towards their goals.

The only way this can change is by restructuring government to create conditions where these distortions will no longer apply.

Reducing the size of the districts, as advocated by Rescue California Education Foundation (see www.rescuecalifornia.org), will greatly reduce the need for campaign funds and return politics in this state to debating policy rather than a contest of television and radio attack ads.

What we propose is a reduction of district sizes to 10,000 persons for Representative districts and 20,000 persons for Senate districts. This idea would also reduce compensation of both to $100 per year plus a per diem stipend. Offices and staffs would also be greatly limited (staff would reside in the Assembly as a whole on a nonpartisan basis) – this would save literally hundreds of millions of dollars.

How would the Assembly work? Contact with the electorate would be predominantly local, and there would be extensive use of the internet for the functioning of Assembly business. Each house of the Assembly would elect from its body an executive council (EC) of 40 and 80 members, respectively for the Senate and House. The EC of small-district citizen legislators would do what the Assembly does now – hold hearings, draft legislation, etc, before the entire Assembly votes The Assembly would serve for the same terms with the same term limits as members of the current houses of the Assembly.

Existing districts for Representatives and Senators would be divided into 50 districts each and those 50 would elect one member of the Executive Council. The EC members would be accountable to their own districts as well as the other 49 district representatives in their current larger district.

The advantage of this idea is decentralization. As the districts are very small, little time and money will be spent campaigning and fundraising. Little time will be necessary for constituent service as well. It will be truly a part time position without being restricted to such and being part time, legislators will have a place in the private sector, better able to understand the impact their lawmaking has. Financial disclosures, limits on contributions and the like would also apply to this expanded Assembly.

This idea may seem counterintuitive. You may feel the last thing we need is more politicians. We couldn’t agree more. We don’t need more politicians. What we need is more citizen legislators who truly represent our communities and our values, not an interest group or big donor. All members of this Assembly will be subject to being unelected at any time, as competition would be far easier to muster in such a small district. Accountability and political competition are wonderful ways to get better quality of representation.

For those who wonder where this new Assembly will come from should look at the experience of New Hampshire. That state has a part time legislator body, with the same compensation we are proposing ($100 per year). Regular people serve for the duty and honor of serving their fellow man – and they will do the same in California.. They will stay as long as they do the job well and their constituents want them. They will not all be wealthy; the rich won’t have an advantage in this system as their money won’t help their election much. Average people will be able to run and win in such a small district. People who have been turned off by the cynicism, conflicts of interest and outright corruption of today’s political class will re-enter the arena and participate in political life.

Take a look at our website. You will see that much smaller districts will make our representatives more accountable, more devoted to solutions and truly return power to the people.

Join us in this effort. Now is the time to act.

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