Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Some Sprinklings of Good Ideas

There was a Vox article that was making the rounds on the Conservative blogosphere the other day that was getting the usual amounts of derision for being hysterical about President Trump, so I got curious and went to the source. And while the derision was somewhat well deserved, because yes, there is the usual sackcloth and ashes routine evident in the early 'graphs, but by the middle of the article, things start to get interesting.

I don't really accept the initial premise of the article, namely that President Trump is the chief symptom of a system that's badly broken. The system has been broken long before that and the rot keeps spreading because no one really wants to have a national conversation and sit down and talk about it. The ideas that made me sit up and pay attention:

1. Eliminate midterm elections by having the House, Senate and president serve concurrent four year terms. Meh. I love the idea of extending the House term to four years though... I feel like two is just not long enough to really get anything done before you're worrying about re-election again. I wouldn't put all the elections in one year though. Leave them more or less where they are- which means 1/3 of the Senate would be up with the House some years and with the President other years, which I'd be okay with. Bonus Idea: Ditch term limits and impose a mandatory retirement age on Congress instead.

2. An explicit right to vote in the Constitution. Endorsed! I see the nugget of common sense in voter identification laws... if you need an ID to get into a bar or drive a car, then why not to vote? Do I think that voter fraud is as nearly widespread as some on the Right claim it is? No. Do I think voter ID requirements are being used as a political tool to repress the vote of the political opposition? Absolutely. If you're going to do it, then it needs to be free, universal and readily available to all citizens. (Don't tell me it can't be done: everyone manages to get their social security cards and the Selective Service finds your behind just fine when you turn 18.) If it can't meet that standard, then away with it! Bonus Idea: Election Day should be a National Holiday.

3. The Fair Representation Act: Here's the lowdown on this... in general, I'm less thrilled at the idea of pure proportional representation than a lot of people because it does make you lose that representative link to your specific district- or at the very least, it dilutes it a bit, which makes the concept a hard sell to people in single member district systems like ours. A mixed system would preserve those district links while allowing a some proportional representation to reflect voter preferences more accurately than they do now. Constitutionally, there's nothing standing in the way of this, but there is a law passed in 1967 that does mandate single member districts. The mandate was imposed for some very legitimate reasons at the time, but the decades that followed have seen a decline in the competitiveness of Congressional elections and more safe seats than contested ones. I think given the historical context of the mandate, undoing it would have to be done in a carefully proscribed manner, but for sure, more room for states to experiment is something I'm down with.

4. Allocating Electoral votes proportionally: This wouldn't have helped Mrs. Clinton win last November, but it's a twist on the Electoral College that I think is more likely to happen that outright abolition. For right now, it's bad for Democrats. It takes more votes from states they traditionally 'need' to win (California, Illinois, New York) and doesn't really take that many from the more traditional 'Red States' though it would make Texas worth a visit. It'll be a cold day in hell before either party puts 'building a better democracy' ahead of their own interests, but this would make a more representative, better system. Suddenly, every Congressional district in every state matters. Which would, at least, bring the Electoral College back into line (at least to me) with the Founder's original vision for it, which was to keep the small states from being drowned out by the big ones.  Democrats in Texas suddenly have a reason to vote in this system, so would Republicans in California. (Here's FiveThirtyEight's take on it, here's 270toWin's.)

The ideas that made me blanch a little bit:

1. Public financing for elections: ugh... I know this is a popular notion that gets floated, but I'm not for it. I don't think it's a panacea to the whole 'money in politics' problem we have and it's got the potential to be easily turned into a poll tax in the wrong hands. What I am in favor of? Transparency, transparency, transparency! Every donation, every ad, every PAC, every 501(c), we should all be able to know who is donating to which candidate or candidates and who is funding, founding, bankrolling every single dollar. If I'm forced to accept the odious notion that 'money is speech' then it occurs to me that speech should be open, public and everyone should get to hear it.

Peeps, ideas like these are what I look for in both parties and candidates I support. I don't know if I'll ever make a serious run for elected office, but if I do, expect ideas like these to show up somewhere in my platform. We need, need, need to be talking more about political reform in this country. We need Constitutional amendments. Real ones, that have a hope in hell of getting out to the states. We need a national conversation on how to make our democracy better, because if there's one thing that unites us in the exasperating times we live in, it's the notion that our system can be and should be better than it is.

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