The California Citizens Legislature Initiative
Citizens are intended to be sovereign in California’s political structure. To express our sovereignty, we elect representatives to assert our rights and argue for our needs in the State Senate and State Assembly. But over time, these institutions have become unrepresentative - elections have become contests of who can spend the most in advertising and self-promotion, and the funding for these expensive campaigns comes from rich individuals, corporations, unions and wealthy special interests with their own agenda. After the election, the winning politicians are beholden to these special interests, and the representation of regular citizens and their needs is lost. The Citizens Legislature movement aims to reverse this trend and put citizens back in charge.
The Problem: Representative Government Systems Are Antiquated
California’s legislative structure – 80 Assembly members and 40 senators – was ratified in 1880 when the state’s population was 864,694 people. This structure has not changed in the intervening 135 years, yet the state’s population has exploded by a factor of 45 times.
The failure of the legislative structure to adapt to changing times has created a tremendous disconnect between elected legislators and citizens, undermining representative democracy by creating a corrupting environment benefitting special interests. The massive number of citizens that state legislators represent has resulted in two fundamental problems that are the root of government dysfunction: Citizens have become utter strangers to their elected representatives, unable to hold them to account; and legislators have become captive to special interests, depending on them for the financial resources needed to win election in these massive districts, and the resources to stay in office once elected.
Time for Disruption and to Leverage Technology for Representative Government
The political system is crying out for change as voters of both major parties decry the failure of government to solve problems. Both Democrats and Republicans have swarmed to “outsiders.” Voters clearly seem poised to favorably consider fundamental government reform. The Citizen Legislature solution to this problem is two-fold.
First, legislative districts can be reduced to a size where it is possible for a representative to win election without personal wealth or reliance on special interests. Such a scenario vastly increases the likelihood that citizens can come to know, have a relationship with and be able to hold accountable their state legislators. It also can increase citizen participation in democracy as they realize their voice actually matters, and give us a Legislature that is much more representative of the state as a whole.
Second, we can use technology to transform governance just as technology has transformed commerce and social networking. Technology should be enabling greater access to and participation in government. Since the legislative structure no longer serves the interests of the customer (constituents), it is ripe for disruption and fundamental service innovation.
The California Citizens Legislature Initiative accomplishes both objectives. Legislative districts would be reduced in size to the point where any individual could realistically run for office without personal wealth or dependence on special interest financing. As an example, an Assembly district might be reduced to 5,000 people, while a Senate district might include 10,000 people. Districts of this size would easily allow a candidate to walk the district with an inexpensive handout, engaging citizens in a series of town hall meetings or communicating with them via social media, essentially eliminating the need for special interest money.
Citizens elected in these small districts would not have to give up their daily lives to serve in office. Instead, they would select from among themselves 120 people to go to Sacramento – 80 in the Assembly and 40 in the Senate – as members of a Working Group of legislators. These individuals would introduce legislation, hold hearings and vote on bills. However, before any bill is enacted, it must also be approved by the Citizen legislators at home.
Technology is what allows such a system to function. Members of the Working Group would make use of a technology platform that facilitates communication with the Citizen Legislators who selected them, who could follow the progress of legislation from home, access analyses and comments, and communicate their views to the member of the Working Group. In turn, a Citizen Legislator could use the Platform to seek input from her own constituents on a pending bill, which could be readily shared with members of the Working Group. Citizen legislators would approve or reject proposed legislation via the Platform, providing the public with complete transparency.
Participate, Improve, Implement
The California Citizens Legislature Initiative is in an exploratory phase, meeting with individuals and organizations who are interested in fundamental reform of state government to wrest control of legislative policymaking away from wealthy special interests and return it to average citizens. The concept is designed to vastly increase transparency, responsiveness and accountability, and produce legislative outcomes that reflect the views of our state as a whole, not the demands of special interest groups.
California is the home of innovation, so why not innovate our government? We are interested in capturing the disruptive and innovative concepts of others to partner with us and continue to improve upon this idea and ultimately take it to the ballot in 2018.
This year’s election cycle has proven that the citizenry across the political spectrum is eager to rise up against status quo institutions. Join us in leading to a 21st Century political system that removes obstacles to reform and puts The People back in charge, resulting in legislative proposals being decided based on their merits, not special interest influence.