Tuesday, October 16, 2018

A Modest Proposal: Fixing The Senate

In the wake of the Kavanaugh Confirmation, my there were a couple of days in early October where I tripped and fell down a Twitter hole of complaints and/or evidence about 'unfair' the Senate actually is. Why, people were asking, should a state like Maine or North Dakota or Nebraska have just as much power as a big, important (and usually 'blue' state) like California or New York? It isn't fair, seemed to be the overall complaint. It's not democratic!

First of all, I have very little sympathy for complaints about the Senate- especially from the Left. The Democrats decided to 'reform' the filibuster to benefit them when they were in the majority, apparently thinking that they would stay in the majority in perpetuity, which obviously, didn't happen. Their strategic mistake then (and it ranks as probably the most idiotic thing seen in the Senate since Senator Brooks went after Senator Sumner with his damn cane) was assuming that, once back in power, the Republicans would continue to pretend that the Senate was nothing more than a genteel country club where there were rules and standards and norms. Well, apparently Cocaine Mitch has had enough of your shit and wasn't going to play by Marquess of Queensberry rules anymore and Democrats want to whine about it. You messed with the filibuster and just thought, what? The Republicans wouldn't? Come on now, y'all.*

Second of all, such complaints forget a few things about the Senate- namely the 17th Amendment. Before the 17th Amendment, which was only ratified in 1913, Senators weren't directly elected by the people, they were elected by the state legislatures. The Senate (in my admittedly limited understanding) was seen as a 'House of the States' while The House was a 'House of the People.' The Senate's original purpose (again, in my admittedly limited understanding) was to be a check against majoritarianism and give the individual states a voice and a stake in the Federal Government. So the 'undemocratic' aspects of the Senate have only been somewhat magnified since the introduction of direct elections for Senators little over a century ago.

So what do I want to do about it? Well, the complainers aren't wrong. The Senate could be better and oddly enough it was the German Bundesrat that sort of pointed me toward what I wanted to propose. (I spent sometime messing around with the Penrose Method and voting weights, but I fucked something up and the math didn't work out for me.) I was thinking about en bloc voting, but thought that would be too complicated- especially if your state had a mess of divided government. So I settled on a combination: the degressive proportionality of the German Bundesrat, combined with the popular elections we currently have. Does it make the Senate bigger? Unfortunately, yes it does. But I also think it makes it better and more important, more representative. Here's where I ended up:

1. I took roughly the same allocations that Germany has for seats. States with more than 7 million people get six seats apiece (2 elected by popular vote, 4 by state legislatures.) States with more than 2 million inhabitants gets four seats apiece (2 elected by popular vote, 4 by state legislatures). States with less than 2 million people get three seats apiece (2 elected by popular vote, 1 appointed by their governor.) Territories/States with less than a million people get 1 seat apiece, elected by popular vote. (Yes, in my timeline, our Territories get full voting rights, because there's no good reason for them not to have some meaningful representation.)

2. If your state legislature is controlled by the same party, then it's pretty easy. But if you have a split legislature, then you've got to appoint an even number of candidates from either party. So, if you have four 'state' seats, then it'd be two Republican and two Democratic seats. If you have two state seats, one from each party. In a non-first-past the post system, this rule would probably fall apart fairly quickly once you start adding more than two parties to the mix. If you only get one extra seat or have one chamber (Nebraska, I'm looking at you) then your Governor gets to pick and I'm assuming most of them will follow party lines when they do so- which may not be true. (Alaska has an independent Governor, but I included him and the other two independents under the Democratic tally since Sen. Sanders and Sen. King usually caucus with Democrats and Alaska's Governor joined forces with the Democratic candidate following the Republican Primary to run.)

3. The final tally it all produced: 130 Republican Seats, 100 Democratic seats for a total of 230 seats.

Here's what it looks like in table form:
State
SEATS
PV
ST
GOP
DEM
California
6
2
4
6
Texas
6
2
4
6
Florida
6
1
1
4
5
1
New York
6
2
2
2
2
4
Pennsylvania
6
1
1
4
5
1
Illinois
6
2
4
6
Ohio
6
1
1
4
5
1
Georgia
6
2
4
6
North Carolina
6
2
4
6
Michigan
6
2
4
4
2
New Jersey
6
2
4
6
Virginia
6
2
2
2
2
4
Washington
6
2
4
6
Arizona
6
2
4
6
Massachusetts
6
2
4
6
Tennessee
6
2
4
6
Indiana
6
1
1
4
5
1
Missouri
6
1
1
4
5
1
Maryland
6
2
4
6
Wisconsin
4
1
1
2
3
1
Colorado
4
1
1
1
1
2
2
Minnesota
4
2
2
2
2
South Carolina
4
2
2
4
Alabama
4
1
1
2
3
1
Louisiana
4
2
2
4
Kentucky
4
2
2
4
Oregon
4
2
2
4
Oklahoma
4
2
2
4
Connecticut
4
2
2
4
Puerto Rico
1




1
Iowa
4
2
2
4
Utah
4
2
2
4
Arkansas
4
2
2
4
Nevada
4
1
1
2
1
3
Mississippi
4
2
2
4
Kansas
4
2
2
4
New Mexico
4
2
2
4
Nebraska
3
2
1
3
West Virginia
3
1
1
1
2
1
Idaho
3
2
1
3
Hawaii
3
2
1
3
New Hampshire
3
2
1
1
2
Maine
3
1
1
1
2
1
Rhode Island
3
2
1
3
Montana
3
1
1
1
1
2
Delaware
3
2
1
3
South Dakota
3
2
1
3
North Dakota
3
1
1
1
2
1
Alaska
3
2
1
2
1
DC
1


1

1
Vermont
3
1
1
1
1
2
Wyoming
3
2
1
3
Guam
1




1
US Virgin Islands
1




1
American Samoa
1




1
Northern Marianas
1




1
TOTAL
230
130
100

Is it perfect? No. It's got some flaws... and would probably prove unworkable fairly quickly if we moved off a First Past The Post system like we have at the moment. But, for right now it is better and more representative than the current status quo. Most of the reform plans for the Senate I've seen usually involve repealing the 17th Amendment and going back to States elected Senators-which I don't think a lot of people would be okay with in this day and age. But, I like the notion of restoring some of the Senate's original role as a 'House of The States' because it suddenly makes having active and vibrant party infrastructure in all fifty states kind of important. If you snag a Governorship or a chamber of your State Legislature, you get a Senate seat- or two! I think if there's a failure of the Democratic Party worth talking about- and in general of Progressive thought across the board, it's that there's a stunning lack of faith in states. Now, I get where that's coming from. States can institute Romneycare and legalize weed, but in our history states are also responsible for Jim Crow Laws. I get why people are leery and I'm not advocating for a return to the Articles of the Confederation or anything like that- but a lot of big, Progressive ideas are simply not going to work the way they want in a country as big and as diverse as this- making the states the laboratories of our democracy once more can only provide proof of concept to take some of these ideas to the national or Federal level. If you can sell a state on an idea and implement it successfully, you should be able to do much the same on the Federal level.

 In general, I'm not sure why we've collectively abandoned the idea that we can't do anything about the state of our politics and our government. They suck and they suck an awful lot of the time. But the beautiful thing about the Constitution is that we can amend it whenever we want. I don't think we should go on a binge of Constitutional rewriting, but we forget that we can in fact, change things. (The hard part is just persuading enough people to agree with it.) I think it'd be good to get back to that. I think it'd be good to make a better America instead of being exhausted by America. That may be sappy and idealistic, but nerding out over PoliSci things like this brings me a little bit of joy in the dumpster fire of our politics. So, don't just bitch about things. Write 'em up. Make a modest proposal or two.

*Complaints about the Supreme Court and what to do about it are an entirely different post.

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