Have you ever had a problem with Government? Have you ever tried to meet with or discuss that issue with your representative? Unless you have loads of money, a lobbyist or a PAC supporting you, you are probably not going to get access to your representative. Instead, you are left to their unelected assistants whose duty is to their boss – not the constituents. It probably makes you feel like a second class citizen in your own state, or even worse, invisible. Underrepresentation is the root of this problem and something we need to examine at if we are to properly reform our state government.
The United States was founded on the right of representation, in particular, the idea that government derives its appropriate powers from the consent of the governed. “Taxation without representation” was a major reason the original 13 colonies chose to declare their independence from the crown.
The issue of representation is both a political and a legal issue. The courts have addressed it for over fifty years now. One of the most important decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court was ushered in by former California Governor and Chief Justice Earl Warren when he held that legislative districts should be equal in population under the 1960's “one man, one vote” principle. This decision forced state legislatures across the nation to become attentive to the numerous mal-apportioned districts and representational imbalances that existed. The Court also noted that the “right to vote is of special importance” because it preserves “other basic civil rights.”
These decisions by the Court were not made in a vacuum. Congress soon echoed them by passing the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which effectuated the right to vote to minorities, particularly blacks who through various schemes were frozen out of elected positions across the nation.
But the Voting Rights Act only went so far. The time for another major reform of our representational system is long overdue. The size of the California Assembly has been frozen for over 150 years. 1854 was the last time that California increased the size of the Assembly, from 63 members to the current 80. In the 1854s, California had 207,000 people. As of January 1, 2009, we have over 38 million people, over one hundred times as the Assembly districts went from 2,500 to about 480,000 people!
Also, in lieu of increasing Assembly members, the legislature has continued the practice of taking on more assistants, staffers beholden to no one but their employer – the government. This should be of broad concern as the Assembly is where the common citizen was supposed to have access for redress, which they clearly do not have.
In comparison, other states are far better off than California. Texas, the second least represented state, has districts less than one-third the size of our own. New Hampshire and Vermont have one rep for every three to four thousand people. Our Assembly seats rival the size of the US House of Representatives. Even the national legislatures of most foreign countries are more representative than our Assembly. Britain’s Commons has better than one hundred thousand to each and Austria has districts of less than fifty thousand people.
We all feel the effects of this form of electoral dilution. Proper representation is essential to good government. It is the base on which the whole system rests. Its duties include acting as guardian of the purse of public monies, sitting on and attending to all 50+ Committees and the 250+ Jurisdictions within them. Further, it’s supposed to communicate the citizen’s interests, restrain the executive, and prevent malfeasance in the judiciary. But it’s doubtful if our legislature can perform any of these duties adequately.
America’s founders noted that it was essential for the number of representatives to increase with changes in the size of the population, and that legislatures that do not increase with the size of the populace cease to be democratic. It is now time to consider this matter dutifully and solve this problem that has been ignored for too long.
So as I asked before, do you ever feel invisible? Many people do and it’s probably because in many ways, to your representatives, you are!