Two radical reforms
Part-time and neighborhood legislature both in the mix
Our assemblyman, Dan Logue, recently announced his intention to introduce a bill next year that would make the Legislature part-time. His idea is that if lawmakers have to hold down jobs or run businesses to make a living, they’ll be more sympathetic to small-business owners when it comes to taxes and regulations.
That may be true, and many states, including Logue’s beloved Texas, do get by with part-time legislatures. But the law would have the side effect of making it nearly impossible for people who don’t own businesses or aren’t independently wealthy to run for office. And it wouldn’t eliminate the cash nexus that turns lawmakers into fundraisers and tools of big money.
There’s another proposal in the mix that is even more radical than Logue’s but could solve California’s legislative dysfunction in a dramatic way. It’s called the Neighborhood Legislature Reform Act, and it’s sponsored by a group called Rescue California (rescuecalifornia.org) that’s headed by a businessman and former Republican activist named John Cox.
Cox’s idea is fascinating. It begins with the recognition that California’s 40 Senate and 80 Assembly districts are so large that viable candidates have to raise a small fortune to win. This puts them in thrall to the monied interests, be they corporations or unions.
To decouple that connection, he proposes to subdivide each district into about 100 “neighborhood districts” of from 5,000 to 10,000 people. Each of these districts would elect a “neighborhood representative.” These people, in turn, would elect one of their members to go to Sacramento to write laws and pass a budget.
By making districts so small that campaigns could be done door-to-door or in town-hall meetings, the act would effectively eliminate special-interest money from state politics. That’s the idea, anyway.
Cox is a red-meat conservative who shares Logue’s conviction that legislators have created a regulatory and tax nightmare for California businesses. But his proposal is entirely nonpartisan and could appeal to reformers of all stripes, and it has the advantage of being more democratic than Logue’s call for a part-time Legislature.
Cox has pledged $300,000 of his own money to get the act on the November 2012 ballot. It’s certainly a proposal worth debating.