THE BLOG
06/15/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Campaign Reform - Not Enough Congressmen?

Here's the original version of what was published by the Philadelphia Inquirer on 4/15/2010.

The post needed to get a shave due to their space constraints. Kudos to editor Josh Gohlke for shoehorning this. Philly.com likes to have a few days with exclusive content and I was tickled pink to get in there. That is why the delay.

BTW, I have set up an FB Fan Page (the social links don't work the same for bloggers) so if you want to get to me...
Yeah, I'm a Fan of Joe the Nerd - but he doesn't pay me for this gig.

We have over 300 million people in the United States.

We are controlled by less than 600 people; The House, Senate, President, Cabinet, Supreme Court comprise this number.

Let me write that again.
  • 300,000,000 people
  • Controlled by less than 600 people.

I wrote a blog a while ago outlining how out of whack we are in the world (http://joethenerd.blogspot.com/2010/01/protection-of-democracy-is-in-numbers.html ). We have the second worst ratio on the planet. Only India has a worse ratio. That means countries like Communist China, Cuba, and a democracy like Iraq all have a better ratio than we do. (We can debate forms of government where legislatures are fraudulent, but we'd better be careful pointing fingers at others.)

Let's isolate the House's 435 members since that number was designed by the framers of the constitution to be variable. All through the 19th century this number increased as states were added and populations grew. 435 stabilized in 1911 as we admitted Arizona and New Mexico.

For the last 100 years we have almost tripled our population and added 2 states. We now play a zero-sum game with our Congresspeople. The same 435 and that means we have roughly one third the congressperson we had 100 years ago.

After the last census Pennsylvania lost 2 seats 10 years ago and actually increased population. Pennsylvania, the birthplace of liberty, will likely lose another one after this census. How does that work if we are supposed to have a responsive government? I don't care what label you want to throw at it, democracy, representative republic, corporatocracy, it is floating away from the citizens.

300,000,000 citizens to 435 congresspeople reduces to about 700,000 people to 1 representative.

Now as each congressperson stands for election every two years, they have to get their message out. Think about a single mailer that comes from a candidate. Think about how much that piece of junk mail actually costs in:
  • design
  • paper
  • ink
  • labor to get the job done
  • setting the address
  • postage.

Now multiply that number across the households in the district (it will be significantly less than the 700,000 but you get the idea).

Multiply that number by how many candidates are running in a primary election, then a general election.

Add in the
  • yard signs
  • TV
  • Radio
  • Newspaper
  • bumper stickers
  • election day literature
  • a good candidate will feed the troops on election day
  • a party afterwords for those who worked so hard
I am not telling you anything you don't already know. It costs too much for one person to handle as they try to sell themselves to 700,000 citizens.

For what? To get into an office so far removed from the general population that they cannot humanly serve. Seriously, one person handling the problems of 700,000 people -even with a crack staff working seven days a week it is too tall of an order to do sanely. No wonder everyone is ticked off.

Why not reduce that 700,000 number down? That means increasing the number of Congresspeople. I can already see eyes rolling at this, but follow me here. If you want a navy, you build ships, an air force builds planes, armies build tanks; if you want a representative democracy or republic then you need to build representatives. This is the cost of doing business. We need to fix the number of citizens per congressperson at around 400,000 to 450,000 (not as good as Russia, but around where China sits).

Why?

It will cost less to run an individual campaign. Less mailers, less yard signs (same number total, but spread out across more races.) The money needed for the media across the board won't change, it may in fact increase because you will have more competitive races.

You will have a chance to see your congressperson in the grocery store (that may be a good or bad thing). They won't need the same size staff.

Congress will look more like their districts. How many carpenters, plumbers or trades people are in congress right now? How many Doctors and Lawyers? How many trades people are in your neighborhood? How many doctors? When will places like Norristown or Coatesville or Chester have representatives who look more like them (and yes, I am speaking racial diversity here)?

People can actually realistically campaign to have a larger effect on their congressional races. In other words a single volunteer has more pop in their bat when the ballpark is smaller.

We won't lose seats as population grows. We add seats to represent more people. Isn't that the idea of a representative democracy?

The biggest reason why we should do this is that all stripes of people should be able to get behind this idea. No conservative wants a government that is unresponsive to them, neither does a liberal or a moderate. We want a smaller government, but we all want one that will listen to us. Each faction spits acid at the others as they debate their points and nothing gets done. All the old talking points are hashed over and over. We need a different way of looking at this problem.

How?

Whatever happens will be through Congress. Other solutions being offered like term-limits and money caps are not going to get anywhere unless a sharp object is metaphorically being pointed at the congresspeople. They are not going to spay and neuter themselves (although I have seen a lot of people who would like to do the job for them). They simply don't have to vote for it or even put it on the docket. We may be wasting our time with those methods.

If a congressperson can be convinced that they don't need to keep raising obscene sums of cash to stay in Congress, they can keep their seniority, and have less people they have to service in a weird way we are cutting them a break.

We may have a method that produces winners all around.

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