Soapbox

Change California’s electoral structure with a ‘Citizens Legislature’

In a proposed “Citizens Legislature,” more people could run for office, and candidates wouldn’t need to spend years building fundraising connections or name recognition. They would campaign on the quality of their ideas and content of their character.
In a proposed “Citizens Legislature,” more people could run for office, and candidates wouldn’t need to spend years building fundraising connections or name recognition. They would campaign on the quality of their ideas and content of their character. Sacramento Bee file

As the Republican and Democratic conventions dominate the political news, there is a sense of unease and dissatisfaction on the part of the electorate about the condition of American politics.

The system is rigged, and it serves the cronies and the corrupt. The support for some presidential candidates has been based on this frustration.

In California, the state isn’t doing nearly as well as politicians would have us believe. We’re told the budget is balanced, but unfunded pension and health care liabilities are huge and growing. We spend record amounts on education, but educational results are some of the lowest in the nation. We’re told our health care situation has improved, but costs are spiraling upward and a vast percentage of our population is dependent on government-provided care.

More Californians live in poverty because living costs are growing faster than incomes. We have some of the highest energy prices in the country. Our housing costs so much, many young people move to other states where a roof over one’s head can be afforded. We lack a coherent water policy. Environmental concerns abound.

The Legislature gets the lion’s share of the blame. It is widely considered to be captured by special interests – campaign funders – who use their resources and manpower to dictate policies they want, rather than policies that serve the public good.

This is exacerbated by California having the largest legislative districts in the developed world. Legislators cannot get elected and stay elected in these huge districts without relying upon campaign money from those powerful interest groups.

What can be done about this situation?

Imagine a state legislature where districts are tiny and require almost no funding or outside manpower for a candidate to win. Candidates could truly campaign locally and be known to voters. They’d be your neighbors, local business people and teachers. Elections would be decided on issues and character of the candidates, not massive advertising.

Imagine a system that uses technology to enhance understanding and accountability, just like Uber and Airbnb disrupted how consumers interact with providers.

Imagine a political system with true accountability, where anyone who wants to run for the Legislature can do so and where existing leaders can be defeated by candidates who make reasoned arguments to voters about improving our standard of living.

Imagine a system where policies are independently crafted, considered and enacted because they benefit the most people in the most effective way, without regard to partisan or entrenched special interests that want to protect their profit flow.

There can be such a system, and it is called the Citizens Legislature.

It would make a modest change in how our Legislature is elected, but it would have far-reaching and revolutionary implications.

The Citizens Legislature involves subdividing existing districts, which have huge populations – 1 million in a Senate district; 500,000 for Assembly districts – into tiny districts that elect local representatives. In districts of 5,000 to 10,000 people, door-to-door campaigns would be the norm.

More people could run, candidates wouldn’t need to spend years building fundraising connections or name recognition. They would run based on the quality of their ideas and content of their character – qualities that would enhance legislation and the quality of life.

California can thrive again. We don’t have to settle for stagnation and decline. It can be the Golden State again with a growing economy that serves all its people and a Legislature we can be proud of.

We need to overhaul the electoral structure.

Learn more about our proposal at CACitizenslegislature.com.

The cronies and the corrupt won’t do this; we have to do it.

John Cox is a San Diego businessman and chairman of Reform California Education Fund Inc. Contact him at John@cacitizenslegislature.com.

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