Thursday, May 25, 2006

On Reforming Congress

The recent corruption scandals among members of Congress point to a very serious need for reform. That the Speaker of the House of Representatives is trying to pretend that members of Congress are or should be exempt from search warrants, shows how far the rot of hyper arrogance and or dishonesty has spread.

A further problem is that most of the “solutions” that are being proposed in Washington to the culture of corruption are going to make things worse. This is because most of it centers around “Campaign Finance Reform” which gags free speech and increases the protections for entrenched incumbents.

What is needed is something that will bring fresh blood into the House of Representatives and reduces the cost of Senate elections. I have a few different proposals which I believe would help reduce the corruption in Washington.

First let us deal with the problem of the House of Representatives. The problem is that what is supposed to be the most democratic branch of our federal government is at the current incumbency rates, not that democratic.

Part of this problem stems from the fact that house districts have become unreasonably large. Each member of the House of Representatives represents a district of more than 600,000 persons. U.S. House districts are the second largest election districts of any lower house in the world. Only India with a population more than three times a great has larger districts and even then, their districts are smaller as a portion of the population. The House of Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Briton and Northern Ireland is almost fifty percent larger than the House of Representatives even though the population of the UK is about an eighth of that of the U.S.

These larger districts make large scale fund raising necessary, because they make grass roots campaigning less effective and TV advertising more effective. This both directly increases opportunities for corruption and tends to entrench incumbents by making it harder for challengers to unseat sitting members since challengers have a harder time raising money and need more to successfully challenge an incumbent.

One of the things we need to do is increase the number of members of the House of Representatives so that each representative has a smaller district. To do this I propose a constitutional amendment something like the following.

“After the next and every subsequent actual enumeration of the population, the Congress of the United States shall increase the number of elected Representatives by one hundred, until such year as the number of elected representatives is greater than or equal to one per 250,000 persons. After such year, at each subsequent actual enumeration of the population, the Congress of the United States shall increase the number of elected Representatives so that the number of elected representatives is greater than or equal to one per 250,000 persons.”

This would do two things. It would start to make House districts smaller and would add a hundred new members to Congress every ten years for the next 70 or so years. This would be like a tidal wave of new blood every 10 years, especially since redistricting already shakes up congress and brings in new members.

This alone should make the House substantially more responsive to the will of the people and reduce the hot house atmosphere that is so conducive to corruption. However to make the house even less subject to special interests, I believe, that we need to consider choosing about a third of the members of the House of Representatives by sortition.

Sortition means choosing the office holder by lottery from among the citizens. This would have problems of course, it would elevate a certain percentage of fools to the House of Representatives (no big change there), but it would also elevate a larger percentage of intelligent public spirited citizens from all walks of life who would not normally be members of congress. Those who did well could then run against the incumbent in their district for a elected seat.

It would mean that a third of the members of congress were not only new members, but ones who most likely would return to their normal life after serving the republic for two years.

If nothing else, it would brake the strangle hold of the legal profession on congress.

As for reforming the senate, I believe that ending the direct election of senators could have positive impact on the huge amount of money spent on senatorial races, Google “repeal 17” or “repeal 17th amendment” for details.

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