I’ve always thought that we in America have the best system of governance on Earth. And while I’m not ready to say anyone else is doing it better, it’s becoming increasingly clear we’ve been falling far short of perfection recently.
And — surprise, surprise — I’m not talking about the Davis City Council and its many decisions I may disagree with. Davis is still a small town with visible representatives, all of whom are approachable and available. It may not do you any good to speak with them about your pet peeve, but try hard enough and it’s likely you’ll at least get a courtesy phone call or a return email.
Try that with Barbara Boxer or Dianne Feinstein or John Garamendi and see how far you get.
And I’m not picking only on Democrats. This being California, they just happen to be the elected officials currently representing us at the national level.
On the other hand, the way we elect our council members in Davis seems to be about as fair as it can be, with no evidence of either voter fraud or voter suppression. You vote for the ones you like and you get what you get.
The town is still small enough that money is not yet a huge factor in electability. There’s still room for a dedicated underdog with interesting ideas to catch the public’s fancy and earn a spot on the council. (See “Julie Partansky.”)
Some folks will try to convince you that “developer money” runs the city, but our complete lack of recent growth combined with a 2-0 voting record against projects that require voter approval speak otherwise.
For my money, I think the current council relies far too much on commissions and committees and outside consultants instead of using good old-fashioned common sense, but if they get too far out of line from the town’s thinking, we can very quickly and easily vote them out of office.
The real problem, as we’ve seen for a number of years now and especially in the past several weeks, is the U.S. Congress.
In the House of Representatives all 435 members face re-election every two years. The House used to be reverently called the “People’s House” because of its short election cycle and its ability to respond quickly to shifts in voter sentiment.
That two-year term, however, has now become an extreme detriment to effective government. Representatives are sworn in the first week of January. By the next January, just 12 months later, they are already in a re-election battle for that coming November. In many cases, that re-election battle actually began the day they were elected.
Now, there may be some altruistic congressmen out there who care only about the will of the people and the good of the country, but I haven’t found any recently.
No, first and foremost they’re worried about staying in office, which means the only wills they care about are the ones that come from people in their own district, the country be damned. If they get 55 percent of the vote, they service those 55 percent and try to get their votes again next time. The 45 percent who voted for the other guy are now the enemy.
Many, many times members of the House on both sides of the aisle vote in a way they know in their hearts is not good for the country, but they do so because it will play well back home. That may be “representative democracy” in its purest form, but it’s a disaster for the country as a whole.
If you think otherwise, name a single member of Congress who voted for legislation because it was the right thing to do, even as the folks back home thought otherwise. They may have existed at one time, but not anymore.
There are, of course, large donors who think the current system works just fine. Any time they wish, they can pick up the phone and talk to Dianne Feinstein or Barbara Boxer or John Boehner or maybe even the president of the United States. You and I are not among those with such access.
You may regard especially large campaign donations as a way for people to make their voices heard, but in reality, they’re nothing more than bribes. Do you really think a representative or a U.S. senator who accepts a $40 billion donation from a person who makes all his profit through online sales is going to vote in favor of requiring sales tax on Internet sales? Like I said, that donation is a bribe, pure and simple.
Now, if we didn’t have that crazy Constitution standing in our way, we could limit all members of Congress — House and Senate — to just one term. Let’s say four years.
With no re-election campaign to run or worry about with every vote, they actually might be able to look at the good of the whole country.
And to avoid the influence of money, let’s suspend all campaigns and pick our representatives out of the phone book.
“Dear Mr. Jones,” will read the letter from the U.S. Government. “You have been drafted to serve in the U.S. Congress in Washington, D.C. You will make minimum wage, since it’s up to Congress to set the minimum wage. Any and all laws you pass will also apply directly to you and your family, without exception.
“If you declare war, your immediate family members will be the first ones sent into battle. You will be provided with barracks-style government housing, three square meals a day, two 15-minute coffee breaks and two dollars off on your next haircut. After four years of duty, you will be allowed to return home.
“You do not have the option to turn this summons down. Thank you in advance for your service to this country. Sincerely, Uncle Sam.”
That ought to fix things for a while.
— Reach Bob Dunning at firstname.lastname@example.org