100% Recall: An Idea From California with Revolutionary Promise

100% Recall: An Idea From California with Revolutionary Promise

It is all too easy to despair of ever influencing, changing or replacing our current political class. It doesn’t seem to matter which party we vote for, nothing about government changes, except to get worse. Our legislatures authorize increased spending every year, and the executive branch and the entitlement society never cease to complain that they do not have enough. What’s the point in voting? Incumbent turnover is all too rare, and any new incumbents immediately become money-grubbing fundraisers hoping to emulate in longevity and cronyism the predecessor they just replaced.

But now there is an idea from California that holds some promise for ending our frustration. You should know that California has the worst representation ratios in the United States of America. In a state of approximately 38 million inhabitants, there are 40 state senators (1 per million, roughly) and 80 Assemblymen (1 per half million, roughly). The number of elected representatives has not changed since 1865. Talk about an entrenched political class!

Our founding fathers had a different representational concept. They called it actual representation. The idea was that the representatives of the people in a representative republic should come from the local area, understand local issues and fully appreciate the concerns of the local populace, not the least of which was their ability to bear the tax burden of government. It was this concept of actual representation which fueled the “no taxation without representation” revolt. The British Monarchy offered virtual representation – the colonists were virtually represented by their brothers in England even though the colonists themselves had none of their own sitting in Parliament. The colonists angrily refuted this concept.

Virtual representation is what California offers its citizens. The huge electoral districts ensure that the elected politicians know virtually none of their constituents and therefore can’t be sympathetic to their needs and concerns. Worse, these gargantuan districts are such prizes of political power that the political parties and allied special interests are willing to spend enormous amounts of money securing the election for their side. Massive amounts of special interest monies flow into California state elections – not just in the revolting negative and/or mendacious advertising but also the direct mail and e-mail campaigns and the enormous support staffs and phone bank callers. Helped by partisan redistricting, the incumbencies are further preserved, and the incumbents – no longer representatives but merely bought-and-paid-for special interest shills – are totally corrupted by the money flow, whatever their original good intentions.

A new idea for reform comes from a group called Rescue California Educational Foundation, headed by John Cox, a former Presidential candidate who witnessed a lot of political corruption close up as Cook County, IL Republican Party chairman. The official title of the proposed ballot proposition is the Neighborhood Legislature Reform Act (NLRA). The concept is both brilliantly simple and highly revolutionary. It divides the enormous California electoral districts by 100, so that one Senator would represent 10,000 people rather than a million, and an Assemblyman would represent 5,000 people rather than half a million. These are neighborhood-sized electorates. Those running for election would come from the neighborhoods, so that California government can once again be for the people, by the people. They will campaign by walking the streets, knocking on doors, and by meeting their neighbors at the grocery store and the church. There will be no place for special interest funding of massive advertising campaigns. It is proposed that the new neighborhood representatives will be low-paid volunteers rather than highly compensated professional politicians.

The unspoken high impact consequence is that, if the ballot proposition succeeds, it will effect a 100% recall of all incumbent elected state representatives. All existing seats are eliminated and 100 new ones are substituted, for every one of which there will be a new election.

This is the only legitimate “throw ‘em all out” initiative in the USA. If it succeeds, it has enormous implications for the future of representative democracy not only in California, but in all states and at the national level. It is a genuine opportunity to re-start representative politics. We wish John Cox and Rescue California success with the Neighborhood Legislature.

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  • commented 2014-06-16 14:06:11 -0700
    Couldn’t have said it better ourselves, Mark. I don’t think that the 100% recall concept was meant to mean that none of the existing politicians would continue to serve—only that our reform would necessarily amount to a sort of mass recall of the current system. Some leaders will continue to participate after the dust settles, of course.

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  • commented 2014-06-16 13:54:42 -0700
    The new model for California will not result in throwing out all the existing elected politicians, but it will force those politicians to represent smaller, more representative districts and dilute their ability to serve special interests. With 10X more individuals involved in California’s governmental process, more volunteer legislators, serving out of civic duty rather than self-interest will need to cast votes on legislation.
    There is a lot of dialogue lately about voter access. It is not just about voter access and enabling voters to endorse candidates already placed on the ballot by monied interests. The Neighborhood Legislature will go a long way toward restoring political power to common citizens and making citizen participation in the political process more meaningful in our state.