by Karl Kurtz
Steve Wiegand wrote a column today in the Sacramento Bee about a proposal to increase the size of the California Legislature. California's 40 Senate districts of about 850,000 people each are larger than any other legislative districts in the country outside of the U.S. Senate (even then, California Senate districts are larger than six states). The state's 80 Assembly members each represent about 425,000 people. So the question of the size of the legislature and legislative districts is a legitimate one.
Despite a few seemingly obligatory media shots at the legislature and an occasional lame joke at the expense of non-Californians ("New Hampshire...has a legislature of 424, and a total population of about 425. They take turns not being a legislator."), Wiegand thinks clearly about the issue and has done his homework on it. Perhaps as interesting as anything else, though, is that within a few hours of the column appearing on line, half a dozen people posted comments on it. Most of the comments are well-reasoned and add new ideas.
One of the more interesting ideas that has been floating around in California (and is covered in the column) is to keep the total number of legislators at 120 but put them into a unicameral legislature. That would reduce each district's size to 283,000.
All of this raises questions about the appropriate size of legislatures and of legislative districts. I'll try to add some more information and perspective to this issue below the jump.