Neighborhood Legislature Initiative is a Game Changer for CA Politics
Published in Fox & Hounds
A change of politically seismic proportions is about to hit the California governmental landscape. The Neighborhood Legislature Reform Act has received its title and summary and is now ready for signature collection. Once enacted, Californians of all political views – and no political views – are going to find this to be the greatest transfer of power since 1776.
What is the Neighborhood Legislature? A simple constitutional amendment with potentially profound implications. It shrinks the size of all legislative districts in California to proportions that make sense; 5,000 people for an Assembly district and 10,000 for a Senate district.
And that’s critical because it means campaigns will be tiny, door-to-door efforts where voters will know the candidates firsthand because they live in same neighborhood. Millions of dollars for television ads, mass mailings and for-hire armies of workers will be a thing of the past. Constituents will actually get to meet their representatives and vice versa.
Most importantly, the Neighborhood Legislature also means that special interest money won’t be needed to get elected to the legislature; this is where the transfer of power comes in to play – without the need for the money, the special interests lose their hold over our policymakers.
The Neighborhood Legislature will also result in more citizen involvement; when districts are only 5-10,000 people, every vote will be courted and candidates will be held accountable for what they say they want to achieve to each voter. That accountability doesn’t exist in today’s mega districts of 500,000-1,000,000.
The Neighborhood Legislature not only restores power to the people who elect them it does something more. According to the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office, the Neighborhood Legislature will save taxpayers more than $1.3billion over 10 years. Following an election when voters were asked to raise their taxes, and they continue to pay among the highest income and sales taxes, not to mention highest utility costs in the nation, these cost savings are real.
The catch? Yes, the Neighborhood Legislature will create 12,000 districts (8,000 Assembly and 4,000 Senate districts), which may scare some or lead others to think it is an expansion of government. But that shouldn’t scare anyone except those special interests who stand to lose their power. The Neighborhood Legislature dramatically reduces the amount of taxpayer funding that goes to legislative salaries. The majority of these new citizen legislators – 99% of the 12,000 who will never leave their home districts – will receive a modest $1,000 a year for their public service.
The Neighborhood Legislature initiative creates an innovative, new governmental process that designates a representative from a combination of neighborhood districts to serve on working committees of each legislative house, which will be composed of exactly the same number as today – 80 Assemblymembers and 40 Senators — sent to Sacramento by the 99 other Neighborhood Reps back in each large district. These working committee members will receive $50,000 for the extra time and work involved but will have one crucial difference from today’s legislator – they don’t need to raise any money for their re-election campaigns. They also don’t need to fear that special interests will fund their opponents since they can offset that spending with their own shoe leather — the power of one-on-one campaigning.
We know that the people who currently hold the power aren’t likely to give it up – certainly not without a fight. But the people can change the game in California thanks to Hiram Johnson – and make no mistake, this idea is a game changer.
The Neighborhood Legislature is also popular with the grassroots organizations in California. For most of this year we have been visiting with and educating groups all across the spectrum that represent California. We have been speaking with service clubs, veterans groups, church groups, business organizations, Chambers of Commerce, Neighborhood Councils – you name it, wherever there is a meeting in California, we have tried to be there to educate the members about the benefits of the Neighborhood Legislature.
We now have almost 10,000 contacts in our database – real people who have heard of this idea, have some affinity for it and hopefully, will help us get it on the ballot. Most importantly, these are leaders who will themselves be able to spread the word about this game changer to their friends and neighbors.
That’s the way this change will be accomplished – person to person, neighbor to neighbor. It’s also the way we will remove special interest influence, make our legislative leaders more responsive and accountable to us and truly change California’s trajectory for the better.