Moving toward more representative governance in Chicago, Part 1

On local solutions and local governance, Part 1

I want to note that it's taken a while to get this space up and running – my writings were lost in a hard drive disaster, and I've really had to start over on a lot of work.

With that said, in this post I will examine a practical approach to improved government at all levels.  The disadvantage is that it would be very hard to force these governments to implement these amendments as they would rob many of the members of these governments of their excess power.

Nevertheless, I think it's appropriate and necessary to address inept governing at the federal, state, and local levels, as Chicago is unlucky at all three. This greatly retards the city's progress, although the worst damage is yet to come if these governments do not veer of their collision course with righteously angry bond investors.

 

Something that well meaning citizens all over the political spectrum can agree on, however, is that machine style politics have been devastating to this city. The city leaders won't pursue the most practical solutions – practical solutions such as sometimes deferring to neighborhood residents to solve their own problems, for example – because these approaches do not result in photograph opportunities and chances to claim credit for trying something, nor do they yield opportunities to dole out sweetheart deals to the cronies in this patronage infested town. Instead we have our money sinkholes and our eminent domain destruction and our shovel ready projects, all while schools, roads, and safety take a back seat.

Want to kill the machine? Want to get the city out of the way of its own progress? Or the state and the nation? Power to the people!!?  Think the influence of unions and contractors and corporations with access to the public purse holders, but without unaccountability to the people, is destructive?  Well, here's my view of one approach to a solution.

 

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Lord Action proclaimed that the genius of the American experiment was the 50 states competing amongst each other to attract population and investment, not guaranteeing a ceiling to tyranny but at least helping to discourage it. Residents, of course, can always vote with their feet. This is among the most convincing arguments against the consolidation of power in the federal government, ongoing almost since the establishment of the republic but advancing particularly swiftly since Woodrow Wilson.

To the detriment of freedom across the land, the balancing power of the states against one another and against the federal government has been nearly completely gutted. Since the progressive era, there has been a populist cry, tellingly stirred up BY Washington and directed TOWARD the people, for democracy instead of republic. Indeed, the effort to replace – as a, or perhaps the, fundamental American principle – the latter word with the former has been largely successful. During that era the true nature and function of both the house of representatives and the senate was completely gutted. Rather than a democracy or a republic, we currently have a destroyed republican system in Washington that functions rather like a democracy of 535 rent seeking ruling elites.

The difference between the system as designed and the system as it functions today is instructive for states and municipalities around the nation.

 

There's a proposed initiative in California, not on the ballot this year but perhaps in 2014, that would restore a republic to the state and take the money completely out of politics. It's called the Neighborhood Legislature Reform Act. This constitutional amendment would, in brief, increase the size of the legislature from 80 in the state assembly and 40 in the state senate, to initially 7,400 in the former and 3,700 in the latter. It is written so as to draw the districts so that each senator represents about 10,000 Californians, and each assemblyman 5,000 Californians – that is, it splits each state and assembly district in to 100 little districts. Now this creates a problem of chaos in the legislature, which the proposed amendment solves by directing this massive body to elect a working legislature, able to introduce bills and amend bills, of 74 and 37 – one for each larger district. The larger body would have to vote on final passage of each bill. Author's note: It would be even better if the 100 neighborhood legislators could vote out their 1 member of the working group whenever they liked, simply with a motion and vote to remove.

This solves numerous problems. First, it in large part takes the money and special interests out of politics as the price for special interests will increase dramatically and as people who personally know a good portion of their district are less easily fooled. Indeed, the initiative vastly decreases salaries in the legislature so that it doesn't pay to be a public “servant” in the halls of Sacramento. Second, it forces each member of the legislature to respond much more directly to each citizen's needs. This reason article notes that not a single member of CA's Assembly was replaced in 2008, while fully a third of New Hampshire's lower house, which is far larger, was replaced. Third, but not intuitively, it forces the working group much closer to the people than the current legislature is – their re-election requires massive contributions to the re-election campaigns of fully 100 members, who will each have far more personal relationships and loyalties to their constituencies and will have to be corrupted to vote for the working group member they're told to. It will be easy to oust members of the larger group, and so the re-election of the 1 working member will require truly convincing the people of neighborhood districts.

 

This initiative also points back to the original form of the US congress. The US senate is supposed to represent the states, not the people, since the states and not the people were signing parties to the constitution. But counter-intuitively, the people had far more influence on the performance of their senators before the 17th Amendment gutted the senate than after. This is because they could hold their state legislators to task. That is a far more local and doable thing than is outspending the special interests that ensure that the two parties put up two sides of the same coin to run for incredibly influential senate seats. Further, the states are more likely to represent the people with their senate choices since they have an interest in holding the federal government to the agreement they signed to create it.

The history of the House of Representatives provides further support for this better representation. The people's house originally consisted of one elected representative for approximately every 35,000 people, even less considering that a lower percentage of the population could vote at the time. When the 435 rule was approved in the progressive era, the body had one representative for approximately every 65,000 people. Now it's 1 for every 715,000 Americans. The body has changed from the people's republican body to a democracy of monied and bought elite rulers where the 51 percent who are fighting for one set of monied interests rule over the 49 percent who are fighting for another set of monied interests. If the House represented the people as it did originally then it would be made up of 9,000 representatives!!!

That is why congress' approval rating hovers around 10%. It was purposely broken around a century ago.

Think this is a radical claim?  Average people have made it before. 

 

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The principles of the initiative proposed in California would work well if applied all over the land. A senate elected by far more numerous, more locally representative, and more responsive state legislators, and a House of Representatives of 9,000 with a 900 member working body would bring us far closer to the intended function of the congress. Exploding the size of state legislatures in states all across the country would take the money out of politics. Although representation is nowhere as bad as in California, where it's 1 representing 450,000 Californians, the same problems infect Springfield, Jefferson City, Baton Rouge, and Austin alike.

 

In part 2:  The implications for Chicago, and how to take power from the hands of the machine and shift it to the hands of the citizens in Chicago's neighborhoods

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    C M Snyder

    IIT produced engineer with the ambition to develop property in Chicago and help return some of the Chicago sense of place to areas of the city that are losing it. Investors and engineers solve problems for a living, so I offer my strong opinions on what these are and how they might be solved.

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