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November 30, 2006

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MShugart

I am not sure what is so 'unwieldy' about the US House.

Vince Leibowitz

Each of Texas' state senators represents more people than do United States Congressmen, making it quite a big job.

Sandwich Repairman

The District of Columbia, not being in any state, functions as a sort of hybrid between a state and a city. For example, it has to run a public university system and Medicaid program as well as making sure the trash gets collected on time. As such, I think it should be included for consideration here. It has a unicameral legislature of 13 seats, of which 8 are elected by ward and 5 at large. As of the last census, DC had about 572,000 people. This means the 8 ward council members represent about 71,500 people each.

Sandwich Repairman

There is absolutely no reason for state legislatures to be bicameral in the first place. Congress has an excuse: the New Jersey Plan and its history. But one person, one vote requires that states elect their upper and lower house legislators in the same manner--indeed, several states don't even bother drawing different sets of districts (AZ, ND, NJ, WA). Combining California's chambers into a unicameral legislature with the same total number of seats (120), seems far and away like the best option to me. I would say the same of Minnesota, where Jesse Ventura proposed the same thing when he was Governor, as well as Ohio and many other states. Nebraska seems to manage just fine with a unicameral, as does every major US cities, all of which have unicameral legislatures. Bicameral state legislatures simply waste time and money. They add to voter confusion by giving them more offices to vote for and representatives' to remember the names of. I find that in Canada, where the federal and provincial legislatures are unicameral, more people know who their elected officials are. The citizenry can be better informed and more engaged without the needless clutter of an extra layer of legislating.

Dan W.

The size of California's districts, in particular it's lower house is ridiculous. Having Assmebly members representing 500,000 people, which is a bigger ratio than most countries, means the power of money in campaigning and lobbbying when governing is greater.

If a bicameral legislature is kept, California's Assembly should be doubled to 160 members, which would still make it the highest ratio for a lower house in the country. One idea is to have a form of proportional representation within multi-member districts using the ranked-choice method used in Australia, Ireland and increasingly Britain.

The bigger issue of why a bicameral legislature is needed in the first place is a good one. If California were to have a unicameral legislature, it could afford to increase the number of legislators to 200 or even 250.

A unicameral legsilature of 200 or 250 members elected from 40 or 50 multi-member districts electing five members each via ranked-choice voting would create a vastly more reprensative legislature. We'd have Orange County Democrats serving alongside San Francisco Bay Area Republicans, and probably a few Liberatarian/Green/Independent members. I would volunteer and work tirelessly for such an initiative to give California the quality legislature it deserves.

Having a lower house State Assembly of 80 members, suitable for a small state, no longer cuts it.

John Grams

Perhaps, we are attacking this issue from the wrong angle. It may not just be about the population size of districts, but about how we elect our representatives.

In Ireland, they have districts of approximately 100,000, represented by 5 TDs (TD is an abbreviation of Teachta Dála, a rough Irish translation of "Member of Parliment.")

This allows TDs to be selected proportionately. Instead of only the majority of the district getting represented like here in CA, everyone is represented, some less than others.

There are weaknesses to the Irish system certainly (for one, they don't really have a concept of constituent services), but I think a hybrid of our current system and the Irish system might lead to better representation of CA.

Brandon

Though I partially agree with Sandwich Repairman's post of 12/11/06 re bicameral legislatures generally, I disagree completely with this notion of "one man, one vote" in regards to State Senates. The Supreme Court decisions of the 1960's that forced states to stop using political subdivisions (such as counties) as the basis for Senate representation is just another example of (you'll pardon the cliche) "judicial activism", on par with Roe v. Wade. So for almost 170 years, it was fine with everyone, then a bunch of black-robed demi-gods insinuated their political philosophy on the whole country. Federalism should be the rule all the way down. Every political unit, from the federal down to the municipal, should have its powers explicitly granted by the people in its charter, and the 9th and 10th amendment type guarantees should be enforced. State Senators SHOULD be based on counties, but only if counties have some sort degree or sphere of political autonomy (which, unfortunately, they don't). The goal, IMHO, should be to keep gov't at the most local level possible for a given type of exercise of power.

Lurker

Everyone else has brought up all my my thoughts but this:

Why does NJ still have 2 member districts? They're elected at the same time, are always from the same party... does this do any good at all? I suggest either splitting up the districts into 2, with one from each, or having only 1 member per district, which will reduce the General Assembly to 80.

The only problem is that this is exactly how the Senate is constituted, which means our Legislature will be essentially the Senate times two, which leads back to the unicamerialism argument.

Dr Nick

I agree that there isn't much utility in having two almost mirror-image houses (here in Washington, we currently have 49 Legislative Districts that each elect one Senator and two Representatives).

Unicameralism would certainly be one way to go, but if we do stay with a bicameral legislature, they could at least be elected under different systems so that different constituencies are represented.

My thought would be to keep the size of the legislature as it is but elect the 98 Representatives from 98 separate districts while electing Senators proportionally, with 7 Senators from each of 7 districts (each of which consists of 14 House districts).

Of course, the House would never go for it, since being elected from the same district as a Senator perfectly sets up a Representative for a run at the Senate.

icr

Keep it simple-and more in accord with democratic norms in the world as a whole.

Keep bicameral but elect the houses by radically different methods. Elect one house by the traditional Anglo-American first-past-the post (i.e. plurality)single-member district plan. Elect the other house by statewide party-list proportional representation(the same-but for only ONE house- as the Israeli Knesset). This would allow for various ideological and other minorities that do not get represented under the traditional system to get some representation in the legislature.

It would also do more than any single reform to break up the two-party duopoly.


People seem to get confused(or disingenously pretend to be confused) over the details of non-plurality voting systems, but what I've described above is a lot easier to explain than the rules of any of the major spectator sports. Admittedly, most people learn the rules of the major sports when they are very young and and learning new things comes easily.

icr

"There is absolutely no reason for state legislatures to be bicameral in the first place."-sandwich repair

Right, but for some reason every state but one has a bicameral legislature and the only pol who has made a big issue of the fact in recent years is a maroon like Jesse Ventura.

Switching from two to one-despite the blinding obviousness of it-is not a reform worth on which it is worth expending political capital. PR, however, is. See, as examples, the success of Greens in Germany and other countries and the Euroskeptic UKIP in the UK.

You can actually shake up the political landscape with PR. US voters are often promised this will happen with an election-but typically the changes are no more than cosmetic.

icr

"Of course, the House would never go for it, since being elected from the same district as a Senator perfectly sets up a Representative for a run at the Senate."-drnick

WA has initiative and referendum- but, unfortunately, not for constitutional amendments, which changing the method by which state legislators would require.

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