Wednesday, July 22, 2009

How do we Restore the Concept of Citizen Legislators?

Last summer, I and my family visited Mount Vernon (George Washington's estate). I was struck by the fact that he didn't want to be President. After the Revolution, he wanted nothing more than to return home to Mount Vernon. He was a farmer at heart, yet when elected, he served his country out of a sense of duty instead of a desire for personal gain, as some of today's legislators have done. He was the quintessential Citizen Legislator (despite not being in Congress).

Nowadays, our politicians do their best to make sure they don't have to suffer the consequences of any laws they pass. (Case and point: Health Care legislation that explicitly exempts Congress from participating in the plan the rest of us are forced into.) But, instead of merely pointing out problems with "the system", I feel it my duty to propose solutions. So, let me ask (rhetorically, for the moment), how can we restore the concept of citizen legislators?

I think that career politicians are one source of the problem. Many of today's politicians don't have another job to which to return at the end of their service, so they don't want to leave the halls of Congress. Many of the rest of us actually have jobs that we'd have to quit just to run for office. (I sure wouldn't be willing to quit my job to run for office, even if I wanted to be in Congress.) So, I think we need a way to forcibly inject some fresh candidates into Congress, while eliminating some dead weight. What follows is my proposal, which I believe is one way to accomplish this: The Legislative Draft.

The Legislative Draft

We currently require 18 year-old males to register for Selective Service. So, let's require that every 25 year-old take a Civil Service (or other) exam to determine eligibility for the draft, as you want legislators to have a degree of intelligence. (25 is the minimum age that you can be elected to the House of Representatives. One wouldn't be eligible to serve in the Senate until age 30.) We would have to establish a minimum score for eligibility for the Draft (a detail which could be determined later).

Now, we need some seats in each legislative body to be filled by the draft. I propose expanding the size of each body by (roughly) one third: add 50 Senators, and 150 Representatives. (This also has the side effect of diluting somewhat the power of each existing legislator, and providing more legislators to represent the people.) And, of course, we have to add some more legislative districts.

And now that we've established the seats to be filled by the draft, we now need to address the manner in which the draft will be conducted. In my opinion, the best way to do this is by lot. Randomly select, from the pool of eligible candidates in a given congressional district (considering both scoring on the above-mentioned exam, as well as existing Constitutional requirements for eligibility), the individuals to serve. When your number comes up, you go and serve your Country for your term. When your term is complete, you can either run for the seat you just held, or you can return to your old life. (With laws requiring that your employer make your position available at the end of your (first) term, if you wish to return.)

I need to wrap up with one final detail: The above plan does nothing to give the career politicians the boot. So, I add one additional requirement: The seats filled by lot are rotated so that every seat in Congress is filled by lot every third term. This creates a de facto three-term limit, without expressly creating term limit legislation.

So, there's my grand plan, in a nutshell. Does it have it's flaws? I'm certain it does. (One being that getting this to pass would be nearly impossible.) But, I hope that maybe I got you thinking a bit. And I'd hope that maybe it could be the beginning of a constructive dialogue. We can't just point out problems without offering solutions. How can my idea improved? What other ideas can we put forth to help restore accountability (and make it easier to elect qualified individuals who want to serve) to Congress?

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Thank God for (some) Democrats

I never thought I'd utter the words of the title of this post. (And I certainly hope that they aren't premature.) However, I believe there is some encouraging news on the Obamacare front: The Hill reported yesterday that some 21 "Blue Dog" Democrats signed a letter drafted to Nanci Pelosi opposing her income surtax on the wealthy to fund the Health Care package. And, as I understand it, there are enough of these 21 Democrats in key positions that their opposition to the bill could be enough to kill it in its tracks.

As I ponder this, I am reminded that our battle is not necessarily against a particular party -- but against the ideas that are most typically held by a particular party. In other words, Democrats aren't necessarily the enemy here -- liberal ideology is. (Granted, I realized that typically Democrats typically have more liberal ideology, and so they tend to be squarely identified as "the enemy"; but not always.) And, given the fact that Democrats can push this through without a single Republican vote means that Democrat opposition to this bill is currently far more important (and effective) than Republican opposition.

Overall, let us hope that these 21 do not cave on Obamacare the way that many Democrats did on the energy bill. And, in the interest of intellectual honesty, I will provide the names of the individuals who signed this letter below. If they represent your Congressional district, please let them know that you approve of their actions -- and urge them to hold fast to the principles they expressed in the letter.

Those who signed the letter:
Jared Polis
Eric Massa
Glenn Nye
Harry Teague
Frank Kratovil
John Boccieri
Steve Drichaus
Parker Griffith
Jim Himes
Tom Perriello
Bobby Bright
Dan Maffet
Mike Quigley
Paul Hodes
Gerry Connolly
Gary Peters
Betsy markey
Michael McMahon
John Adler
Ben Ray Lujan
Walt Minnick
Dina Titus

Friday, July 17, 2009

Congress: Put YOUR Health Care Where Your Vote Is

Health Care reform is big news these days, and I ran across an interesting detail on the current draft version of the legislation that will be voted upon in the next couple of weeks. The legislation contains a curious exemption: Members of Congress are exempt from participation in the lauded "public option". This "public option" whereby you and I can purchase our "low-cost" health insurance directly from the United States Government is supposed to be the answer to all of our health care woes. And yet, members of Congress will never have to deal with the effects of the legislation.

Fortunately, one member of Congress, John Fleming, seems to have his head screwed on straight. He has offered a resolution giving members of Congress the same "opportunity" we have to participate in this "public option". I think this is a great resolution, and I hope it is ultimately successful.

Either way, to Congress, I have the following to say: Put your health care where your vote is! If this "public option" is good enough to force the rest of us to use it, then I expect you to lead by example and enroll in it yourself.

Please join me in demanding accountability from Congress: that they live by the laws they pass for the rest of us.