How Neighborhood Legislature Will Redefine Representative Politics

How Neighborhood Legislature Will Redefine Representative Politics

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Here in California, our citizens – every day people going about their normal lives and figuring out how to do things better – have created a new world of work, of shopping, of procurement, of planning, and of information sharing.

Here in California, our citizens – every day people going about their normal lives and figuring out how to do things better – have created a new world of work, of shopping, of procurement, of planning, and of information sharing.

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There are a couple of standard components for this new world. One is the network. The network connects us all together, gives us all access to the same information, and gives us the opportunity for our voice to be heard. There’s no boss on the network, no hierarchy. We all have the same opportunity on the network. We trust the network, not the hierarchy, not big business and not big government. Another is software. Millions and billions of apps enable us to turn network access and information into productivity – producing documents, taking and making payments, completing transactions, getting things done. A third component is the device we use to access the network and use the software – in fact, we should say “devices”, because it could be a smartphone or a desktop computer, or a laptop or a tablet, depending on where we are and what we are doing. We always have access to the network and the software – and to each other – as a result of these devices.

You could say that all of these components of the new world have redefined work and redefined both production and consumption. There are new ways to collaborate, new ways to communicate, new ways to sell and new ways to buy. Now, Neighborhood Legislature seeks to bring that new same spirit to something that hasn’t changed in California for about 150 years. What we seek to change is the way that California citizens are represented in our representative republic.

Today, we citizens are massively under-represented by our elected statewide politicians. One state senator is supposed to represent 1,000,000 of us. One state assembly member is supposed to represent 500,000 of us. Do they know us? Do they know what our greatest hopes and concerns are? What issues are most important to us? What our priorities and preferences are? Of course not. Do they care? No – because their elections are paid for by big money donors and special interests. They don't have to listen to us. So they don’t represent us.

How could representative politics be redefined to achieve true representation rather than uncaring detachment? By exactly the components that are redefining all the other parts of our lives: networks, software and devices, connecting everyone together, sharing information and hopes and concerns, helping citizens to collaborate together to make their elected officials responsive to the community’s needs.

First, the network. This would be the network of engaged California citizens. But they need to be connected. Currently, they are connected together in their non-political activities via wireless networks, phone networks, and social networks. But they’re not connected to their elected representatives. Sure, it’s possible to leave a message on your representative’s Facebook page or e-mail, but do you think that representative is going to read it personally? Respond in 5 minutes like your other socially connected friends and co-workers? Be sensitive to your concerns and make changes to his or her behavior? Unlikely, at best. Why? Because they’re not tightly or closely connected to you.

We might say, therefore, that the new networking begins to work when the participants are closely or tightly connected. Neighborhood Legislature starts with this closer, tighter connection. Instead of today’s electoral districts of 1,000,000 (for State Senate) or 500,000 citizens (for State Assembly), Neighborhood Legislature will have districts of 10,000 and 5,000 citizens, or roughly 4000 and 2000 homes. We call them Neighborhood Districts – small enough that everyone in the district can meet everyone else and call on every home.

Candidates for election to represent these districts must reside there of course – so they’re already neighbors. In their campaigning for elections they won’t use today’s methods of TV, radio and billboard advertising. Those are not “connecting”. They’re one way – professional politicians interrupting and annoying us to peddle their messages, usually to insult their opponents rather than to inform their voters.

Instead, they’ll campaign door-to-door, and meet you on your doorstep to hear your concerns. They’ll call town hall meetings for open discussions. They’ll see you in Church and at the supermarket. They’ll listen, and they’ll distill a consensus.

The winning candidate – now your Neighborhood Representative – will stay connected. Voters will continue to see them in the neighborhood, or see them at church. You can go to your representative’s home or speak to them face-to-face on skype or call them on your mobile phone and get an answer. Most of the Neighborhood Representatives will never leave the neighborhood. They elect a working committee to go to Sacramento to do the drafting of legislation, while the bulk of the representatives stay at home, continuously tapping in to neighborhood sentiment to determine how to direct the working committee.

As a result of this close connectivity between voter and representatives, more citizens will participate in the electoral process. More of our ordinary citizens can run for office in their neighborhood – they don't have to be party hacks who sacrifice their point of view to ideology. New parties will be formed. Voter turnout on polling day will increase. The town hall meetings will be well attended. California’s citizens will re-engage.

All in all, the Neighborhood Legislature truly redefines representation for California. Representation will mean that somebody local, whom you trust and who understands local needs and concerns, and local hopes and dreams, will be the one you elect. You will have the opportunity for continuous 2-way communication with them. They will direct and shape the working committee that drafts laws, and they will have the final vote on every law – which means you will, effectively, have the final vote.

We see the opportunity for a new California citizen, more highly engaged with their elected representatives, and participating in a newly open and responsive process.

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  • commented 2015-05-05 16:31:26 -0700
    I generally like your idea, but there are some shortcomings, I think. Biggest one is that this again will favor the (technical) well connected urban areas. Wireless communication barely now covers 70% or the rural areas and that is if one makes an effort to get connected. The bigger problem is that a large number of rural people are practically computer illiterate – they don’t use them. We have been struggling to communicate because there are sooooo many varieties of communication that need to be employed. for many people the broadcast communication (TV, radio, newspaper is still the main information source, but in may cases the trust of objective reporting has been lost so they don’t even turn any of the information sources. In a lot of cases actual face-to-face conversation takes care of all the news that these folks deem relevant. Maybe the next generations will change that.
    The ‘connected’ people are also going through a steep learning curve, by realizing that a lot of information available on the internet is ‘biased’ (to say it PC). You cannot thrust only one source. Seems normal to you and me maybe but what is happening is that the vetting of information that once was done by professionals has been lost. The professionals themselves appear to broadcast biased information and abuse their monopoly and at the same time everyone hits the send button forwarding the latest conspiracy theory with a picture of bigfoot attached.
    What I think is the best approach for today’s rural communities is to return the power to govern to the local governments, basically the counties and cities. These officials are elected directly by the people and you can meet them on the street or go to one of the board meetings and let them know your grievances. This is the original idea of the founding fathers, local government for local communities, a state government to represent a collection of counties and the federal government to represent the states. By no means does that mean that some agency be it 300 mls or 3000mls away can dictate how things should be run locally.
    I do see that there might be an opportunity to implement your idea in the densely populated areas. To me that indicates that there should be a different government for dense population communities and rural communities because there need to be different rules and regulations and different approaches to effect representation.
    Like I said this is from a rural perspective, although I lived and was born in big cities and I work in IT. I had to jump though a lot of hoops over the years to get a decent internet connection where I live and work.
  • commented 2015-05-05 15:47:21 -0700
    Contact the State of Jefferson people too and see if you can work together.