Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Expanding Congress?!

Sabato's book A More Perfect Constitution addresses primarily how to fix the mechanisms of the three branches of government, which I think is a smart play here (he's avoiding the divisive social issues like abortion and flag burning that always pop up in amendment discussions). They've got a summary up at the Moderate Voice and I'm going by that, although I plan on finding the book and reading it meself asap...

The first thing up is Congress, and how Sabato wants to reform it:
  • Increase the size of the Senate by adding two additional senators for each of the ten most populous states and one extra senator for each of the fifteen next most populous (to be determined by each census).
  • Allow former presidents and vice presidents to hold the position of ‘national senator’, participating and voting in the Senate but not holding seats in the Electoral College.
  • Mandate nonpartisan decennial redistricting for the House of Representatives based on the guiding principles of compact districts, increased partisan competition, and the needs of voters.
  • Expand membership in the House of Representatives to approximately 1,000 members (keeping staff resource allocations steady to level the playing field).
There's a few other items under the reforming of Congress, but I'll start with these four.
The things that leap out first is that Sabato is arguing for MORE representatives in both Houses, which brings up the knee-jerk reaction of "OMG more CORRUPT BASTARDS in the halls of power!" Once we work past the automatic disdain Americans have for elected officials, we have to look at the reasons Sabato is giving for increased representation. First, representation in the House of Reps, which is always based on state population. Originally it was 1 Rep per 60,000 voters. Thing is, populations grew. States grew. The size of the House of Representative sexpanded until at some point the PTB realized if they didn't cap the number of Reps they would run out of floor space. So they capped the number of Representatives at 435, and from then on they shift the proportion of representation. It's now closer to 1 Rep per 600,000, give or take a city. Sabato has to be arguing that the level of representation is now far too meager, far too spread out, for 1 Representative to be representing so many people. So he wants to increase the body count of Representatives to try and get representation down to a more manageable number, and to where a Representative may be more responsive to their constituents. My problem with that is that there is still no guarantee that you will get better representation even with more Congresspersons: more that likely, you're just going to make it more expensive for the lobbyists and deep pockets to buy up more Congresspersons.
The argument Sabato is making to increase representation in the Senate doesn't fly either. He wants to allow the 10 largest states to get 2 additional Senators, and the next 15 largest to get 1 additional. He's obviously thinking again that larger states need more representation. There's a problem: THE FOUNDERS DID NOT SET UP THE SENATE THAT WAY. Remember the Great Compromise? The Senate is NOT BASED on population counts: large states have to have the same count of Senators as the smaller states. That way the smaller states can place a check on any large-state majority push that would come at the expense of the smaller states. By giving the larger states more senators, the smaller states will have no stake in the governance of the nation.
If Sabato wants more representation for people in the Senate, he needs to think more broadly, and ensure that the small states benefit as well as the big ones. There's a simple solution: bump the total of senators up to 3 per state. You increase the current count of Senators up to 150, and that should ease any staffing/committee issues you might have. It might also free up various logjam procedurals that occur more often in a smaller body of Senators. Better yet, it aids in the term schedules. Senators serve 6 year terms, with the states electing each Senator on a staggered schedule. With 2 Senators, there's been an open election year: With 3 Senators, each election term now will have a Senator on the voting bloc, and each state a chance to redefine their Senatorial representation each election. Bumping to 3 Senators works better than just letting the big states have more Senators.
His idea of putting former Presidents into the Senate as 'National Senators' reeks of the age-old problem of "What should we do with Ex-Presidents?" I'm not sure a lot of people would like to see Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton or George W. anywhere near a political office again. Not every Ex-President is going to be a Harry Truman, doc.
The non-partisan, non-gerrymandered voting district suggestion is, of course, a fracking NO-BRAINER. WE NEED TO GET RID OF THE GERRYMANDERS.

More to follow.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

There's a book on suggested amendment ideas!

Many thanks to Jeremy Dibbell's Charging RINO blog, who has pointed out a new book from U. of Virginia's Larry Sabato, A More Perfect Constitution.

Dibbell's working a summarization of the book on another blog, the Moderate Voice, going over each amendment proposal. I'm gonna go take a look...

(long look)

Okay. I've got some issues with Sabato. This is gonna take some time... first up, his ideas about enlarging Congress (?!?!?).

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

The right to petition and address grievances should be direct to Congress

One trend in the political polling is the overall disapproval the public has with both President Bush the Lesser and with the Democratic-(mis)led Congress. The polling shows nearly a 33 percent Approval / 64 percent Disapproval on Bush (which goes to prove how politics in this country is divided into threes: Conservative / Moderate / Liberal, with the Conservatives backing their boy no matter what at 33 percent and with the Liberals despising him forever at their own 33 percent, with the Moderates defining the ever-morphing ups and downs of the middle 33 that goes either way. For the Moderate polling to now be totally alienated against Bush (and for so long, no President has had MULTIPLE YEARS of constant negative polling like this...) shows how terrible a job he's actually done. But I digress), and most disconcertingly a 29 Approval / 65 Disapproval for Congress. While the Bush Backers like to exclaim that this is because Americans despise Commie Libruls, it doesn't explain the more telling numbers from the poll for questions 7. and 8.:

7. (IF CONGRESS ACCOMPLISHED NOT MUCH/NOTHING) Who would you say deserves most of the blame for that (President Bush and the Republicans in Congress) or (the Democrats in Congress)?
Bush and Republicans   Democrats in    Both    Neither     No
in Congress Congress (vol.) (vol.) opinion
9/30/07 51 25 20 2 2

8. Which political party, the (Democrats) or the (Republicans), do you trust to do a better job handling (ITEM)?

9/30/07 - Summary Table*

Both Neither No
Democrats Republicans (vol.) (vol.) op.
a. The situation in Iraq 49 34 3 11 3
b. Health care 56 26 2 12 5
c. The U.S. campaign
against terrorism 41 40 5 10 4
d. The economy 51 33 2 11 3
e. The federal budget
deficit 52 29 2 12 5
*Full sample asked items a-c; half sample asked item d; other half asked item e.

It shows most Americans prefer Democrats over Republicans on almost all issues.

So why the hatred for Congress? Why are they polling so low, even compared to perhaps the most unpopular President of all time?

One consideration is the fact that the Democratic leadership is failing to stand up to Bush. On nearly every issue, the Democrats keeled over, played dead, allowed the Republicans to dictate issues and remain on the offensive (as well as remaining offensive).

What has happened to the voter base is a spreading sense of ennui, of a failure to achieve anything, of a massive disconnect between the people and the leaders who are ignoring them, that all attempts to end the madness that never will end are driving us headfirst into a brick wall.

Some of this is due to a standard political defense mechanism: defend the status quo. Most politicians, even the ones who campaign on a platform of change, really don't want to do so once they're in power. They don't want to rock the boat (which is why Newt Gingrinch still has his followers even after all his massive failures: when Newt did seize power he actually did rock the boat and made changes even though those changes ended up being disastrous for the nation).

However, the major reason for the massive disconnect between Congress and the people who voted the Democrats into a majority there is due to the lack of direct contact Congresspeople really have with the majority of voters. Most people never ever meet their own Congressman/woman (I work at a library where a representative for our representative meets once a month for the Airing of Greivances: guess how many people came by for the monthly chat? Amazingly, one!) Try to book a meeting with a Congressperson up on the Hill: you'll have to wait, sometimes days sometimes months, and/or fill out paperwork and/or jump through hoops, and even then if you're representing a whole lot of angry people you may never see him/her at all. Meanwhile, the Congressperson is spending hours upon hours a) chatting with fellow Congresspersons, b) chatting with the media 'punditry' that's almost as isolated and out-of-touch as government is, c) having lunches and dinners and having contacts with lobbyists and campaign financiers in such a way as to skirt any election and ethics law.

Your Congressperson probably knows the clerking intern of their favorite lobby group more than they know you.

And while lobbyists are supposed to be performing a necessary function of a representative democratic republic - representing and petitioning for special interests seeking aid, relief, protection and intervention from government - they are in fact crippling democracy by making Congress tone-deaf to the issues that are really important to the American majorities. Congress hears all day from lobbyists screaming for relief for corporations that want more tax breaks; they hear from lobbyists screaming for protection of their particular special interest (be it guns, social security, guns, abortion, guns, the right to sell tobacco to kids in China, guns, and oh yeah the all-important macedamia nut industry); they meet with lobbyists more concerned with one issue rather than all issues concerning everyone.

We are not getting true representation in Congress. Not in today's government. In some respects we never really did.

We need an Amendment to make it easier somehow for Americans to directly petition Congress. To get on Congress's case. To not use lobbyists more interested in playing games on the Potomac, but to directly address a grievance and to have something done about it. While the First Amendment spelled out that the public cannot be blocked from petitioning and addressing grievances, it never defined exactly how the public CAN petition and address grievances. We need an amendment that does:

  • Congress must allow a majority of no less than 60 percent of registered voters from any state to directly petition and speak before Congress on a given issue, and to allow the petitioning group to present to Congress a referendum on that issue to be voted on in open committee, and if the referendum passes the committee to be voted on in open quorum in each house of Congress.

Now, this IS going to open a HUGE box of flesh-eating worms of ultimate doom, I know. We're gonna get a whole bunch of angry, eager-to-argue petitioners from every state coming before Congress to air nearly every divisive argument and issue on the books. We're gonna have pro-lifers stampeding onto the floor screaming for an anti-abortion amendment. We're gonna have libertarian wingnuts trying to abolish Social Security and the Income Tax. We're gonna have JFK conspiracists wanting Congress to open investigations into Roswell Aliens that were standing on the Grassy Knoll.

But you wanna know what? This will actually be good for the country, in the long run. We will finally, FINALLY be addressing issues that have been festering and clawing at the edges of the political discourse, simply because Congress can't be bothered to touch any of them (Social Security, Tax Reform, Abortion: in truth all three of these issues and many more scare the crap out of politicians who don't want to be nailed to any side of any of these issues lest they lose their voting base).

And for any of the wingnut groups able to succeed in getting a majority of their state's voting base to that 60 percent cap to bring an issue directly to the floor of Congress, there's bound to be 20 other more rational groups able to get 60 percent of their states' voters to allow them to petition Congress in turn and prevent those wingnuts from overstating their case, keeping them in line and making Congress aware that there are more sane people than not in this country.

By allowing voters to directly petition Congress, to let the congressional leadership learn just how voters REALLY FEEL about certain issues, should go a long way to convince them that it is in their interests to do what the voters want. The voters want us out of Iraq. The voters want us to stop violating the Constitution. The voters want health care for their kids. The voters want an end to the corruption and incompetence of the Bush administration. We just need the means to TELL CONGRESS TO WAKE UP AND DO THEIR DAMN JOBS!