Five Ideas To Help Fix U.S. Representative Democracy

Recently, Salon ran an article about fixing the Constitution. Of course, many of the ideas were meant to make the Constitution more Progressive (nice fascism), but there were a few good ideas that could help all Americans. As I noted, “The Constitution does guarantee (freedom, fairness, and equality). The politicians, the bureaucrats, and people don’t.”

The article recommended several ideas, such as 100% financing of elections by Government, to keep money out of politics. Three years terms for Representatives, with term limits capped at 12 years. Election day being three days, which would include the weekends. And a few others.

Now, a friend asked me what I would do to fix our political system. And I thought “is it really the system that is broken, or the people?” I’ll often write that the immigration system is not broken: it is the people running it that are broken. There are substantive problems within the way the political system works that can be fixed by dealing with the people involved. Here’s what I would do

1. Term limits for the House Of Representatives and Senate

As time goes on, elected Representatives respond less and less to constituents, and more and more to other interests, including simply keeping their party in power. Benjamin Franklin once wrote “In free governments, the rulers are the servants, and the people their superiors . . . . For the former to return among the latter does not degrade, but promote them.” People seeking elected office so often look at serving in the House as a career, when they should serve some time then leave. They become divorced from The People over time. We cannot just “vote the bums out”, because that rarely works. Power corrupts. I recommend a limit of eight years. (a good article here)

For the Senate, I recommend two terms as the limit.

2. No post serving perks

Serving as an elected official is not a job: it is a responsibility and duty, and should come with no post-serving perks. No medical insurance for life, no retirement accounts, nothing. Zip. Nada. The only exception would be Secret Service protection for ex-presidents for as long as necessary.

3. Repeal the 17th Amendment

You’ll notice I made no mention above as to Senators losing focus on their Constituents. They certainly have the same problems as Representatives. However, the original intent of the Constitution was for Representatives to represent their Districts, and Senators to represent their State government. That was lost with the passage of the 17th Amendment, which took election of Senators out of the hands of State legislations and put it in the hands of citizens. Some might wonder why this is bad.

States now have no true representation to the federal government. When it was the General Assemblies electing Senators, it meant that those Senators were beholden to the their state, and its government. It meant that citizens needed to pay more attention to the doings of their state elected officials. It meant Senators did what was best for their state, not for their party, and not for the Federal government. The Founders acknowledged the correct idea that State governments were better equipped to deal with the needs of Citizens than the federal government. It was integral to the notion of federalism, to being a Constitutional Republic. Elected State officials live within our communities. They are not full timers. They have jobs. They have to live under the laws they pass. The minute the 17th was enacted, the massive expansion of the federal government started, shifting power away from states, where it belongs, to a far off government that is barely responsive. (read more here)

4. Restrict Money To “Local”

Liberals often complain about money in politics, despite doing exactly what they complain about. But, they are right: money is a problem in politics. It buys access. It buys “back-scratching”. It is essentially legalized bribery. There are many ideas to fix this. Liberals want to restrict “corporations” and “dark money” groups (while ignoring unions, their own groups, etc). They want to stop Big Moneyed individuals (while allowing their own). I’ve pushed the notion that restrictions should be on elected officials, not people. But, what if we made it “local only”?

What that means is that Representatives could only accept money from people, companies, and groups that are within their own Districts. No money can come from outside. It has long bothered me that candidates can take money from people, companies, and groups (PCG) which are not in their districts, and often not even within their own states. This also goes for campaigning, but it would be un-Constitutional to stop that. Representatives become beholden to PCGs that have nothing to do with their Districts. Why should money from some PCG in another state, or even district, effect the race in my district?

This would also apply to Governors and General Assemblies.

This is very much about “you mind your business, I’ll mind mine”.

5. Recall Elections

The rules to this would have to be very strict, to avoid frivolous recalls, but, there needs to be a way to recall federally elected officials who are Not Doing Their Jobs in representing their Districts. Likewise, General Assemblies could recall Senators who fail to represent their States. Again, there would need to be strict rules, so as to avoid frivolous recalls due to control changing hands.

This would put elected officials on notice that they best damned well represent their Districts/States above all else.

Government is supposed to be “by the People, for the People”. It has moved away from that. It’s time to take it back.

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6 Responses to “Five Ideas To Help Fix U.S. Representative Democracy”

  1. david7134 says:

    We also need an amendment establish limits on taxation. I would favor not being able to be taxed or fined greater that 10% of income and that everyone must pay. Then we need limits on what can be regulated. I have a big problem with drug regulation and see no sense in our current level.

  2. Anon says:

    6. Make them spend a minimum of 11 months a year in their districts and no talking to lobbyist while in DC. This is 2014 – they can have meetings via Skype. Make the lobbyists come to their districts so the constituents can see who they are.

  3. Stosh says:

    Limiting money to the candidate’s local area would be a problem. The candidate would be restricted, but because of free speech, outside groups would pick up the slack both for and against the candidate, only their voice would be limited

  4. gitarcarver says:

    My responses:

    1) We do have term limits in every elected office in the land. It’s called “the ballot box.” If people were serious about term limits, they would vote the person out.

    2) I have no problems with retirement accounts and things like that. If the “perks” or benefits are available to the average public sector or private sector worker, I see no reason to ban them.

    3) Agreed. The House is not longer “the People’s House” as was intended.

    4) I am not sure how that would work in some cases. For example, if I went to school with a candidate that is running for office in another state, shouldn’t I be able to give money to their campaign? If my sister were running, why should my voice against her be limited by not being in her state? (Sis and I don’t get along. 🙂 )

    5) This is a tough one as well, but I appreciate the sentiment. I am not sure what “not doing their job” means or even how to quantify that. Some people think that the Senate and House should just rubber stamp Obama’s ideas. Should they be subject to a recall? Do we want elected people who only do what the majority of people want without any vision for the future?

    I would MUCH rather see tighter reins on ethic and ethics violations. The House and Senate should not be guarding their own members. An independent group should be formed that would have the power to deal with ethics violation.

    Good list and a great discussion.

  5. Max says:

    Just going to throw this one out there as an alternative to the first item and the ever popular discussion on term limits. How about we change the rules for how old you have to be in order to serve? I think you should be a least 60. This way you have lived long enough to have seen how the world actually works. Maybe you have run afoul of government regs while trying to run a business. Or like many of us you have worked your way in a company for someone else and know what is required of you when given authority and discretion. At this point you have experience and many people will be able to tell what kind of person you are form how you conduct yourself and your business.

  6. 4) I am not sure how that would work in some cases. For example, if I went to school with a candidate that is running for office in another state, shouldn’t I be able to give money to their campaign? If my sister were running, why should my voice against her be limited by not being in her state?

    I understand your point on this, however, my view is that candidates should be beholden to the people of their district/state, and entirely too much money from outside those districts/states is flowing in which can usurp the will of those people.

    I would like to see this apply to ads, as well, but, that would be unconstitutional.

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