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The People’s House

Fri, Nov 8th, 2013
Posted in All Commentary

Speaker John Boehner, when he accepted the gavel after being elected as Speaker of the House in January 2011, declared, “The people voted to end business as usual and today we begin to carry out their instructions.” He continued with his remarks saying “this is the People’s House.”

Is it still the People’s House? Did the majority of the citizens of the United States want the House we have? I don’t think so. Due to the severely contorted and politically lopsided districts we have, the majority of the people don’t really get the representative they want. Charlie Cook, Cook Political Report, suggested that with the current system politicians choose their voters more than voters choose their politicians. The deck is stacked for incumbents to get reelected again and again unless they loose to a more extreme member of their own party in a primary election.

Unfortunately, party activists who tend to be more extreme are more likely to vote in primaries, giving us more extreme candidates in the general election. The vast majority of the public lands mostly in the political center and not on the extreme right or the extreme left. A recent study by NBC/Esquire found that the American Center makes up 51 percent of the people in this country. Those of us that reside more or less in the center need to make the effort to get out and vote in the primary elections. This may result in a relatively moderate candidate that we can stand behind.

The most effective option to truly get a more representative House is to redesign the districts with a mathematical computer program that completely removes party influence. It should rely only on the 700,000 or so people per district, drawing geographical lines to include this number as geometrically square as possible. This would eliminate for the most part the so-called safe districts for either party. Safe districts produce more extreme candidates who have no motivation to compromise and work with the other side. Computer drawn districts would encourage the candidacy of people who appeal to the majority of the people in a district that likely will not be monopolized by either Democrats or Republicans. This would make a more representative House of Representatives. ‘We the people’ are not as polarized as today’s Congress.

With the partisan control we have in state governments by one party or the other the above option is not likely to become a reality. In most states the legislature draws district lines which is a highly partisan process.

The next best option to attain a more representative House is to have a two candidate open primary like California. California voters approved the Top Two Candidates Open Primary Act by referendum. All candidates that run in the primary, regardless of part affiliation, appear on a single primary ballot. Voters vote for the candidate of their choice in the primary election. The two candidates with the most votes move on to the general election. Districts that are dominated significantly by one party will likely have two candidates from the same party running against each other in the general election.

The advantage of the two candidate open primary is the likelihood that the winner in the general election will be the more moderate candidate.

Congress has an all time low approval rating. A recent poll found 63 percent of the people would like to replace their member of Congress. As to the Speaker’s opening remarks upon his election in 2011, the business as usual so far is not acceptable and recent polls demonstrate that people do not feel the House is carrying out their instructions. Members of Congress are speaking in terms of fighting, winning, losing and surrender. They recently agreed to a short term cease fire after taking the country to the brink. These are war terms and not those of a functioning democratic, representative body that works toward the good of the country and the American people. Abraham Lincoln long ago declared “a house divided against itself cannot stand.” That should apply to Congress as well.

If most states went to a top two open primary system or had districts drawn mathematically without regard to party, we the people may actually be represented by “the People’s House.” Congress may then be a more functioning body and words like deliberation, consultation, negotiation, compromise, and agreement may return to their vocabularies. We again may have normal order and have a responsible, regular budget process without the drama of a crisis. Governing through continuing resolutions is not sustainable. Bouncing from one budget crisis to the next has a negative impact on the economy and the stature of the United States in the eyes of the world.

The status quo can no longer be an option. Finding the common sense center through compromise may not produce a perfect solution according to the views of many people. However, imperfect steps forward are better for the prosperity of our country than stagnation. Failing to move forward by working together will lead to decline. Languishing in a sort of limbo provides uncertainty which is a barrier to growth and will weaken our country.

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