(Click here to return to the first half of the book) A Citizen Legislature
19. The New House Would Offer Exciting
Benefits to Chosen Representatives
Some people, imagining themselves to be chosen as members of the Representative House, may worry about the disruption of their lives caused by dropping their present activities and spending three years in Washington. We believe this problem could be met in large part by the following provisions.
First, the annual salaries paid to Representative House members
should be large enough to represent several years' average income, and modest living quarters should be provided for those who chose to utilize them. A three-year pay totaling $210,000 would represent a windfall greater than most Americans can ever hope to receive through inheritance, business coups, insurance settlements, gambling winnings, or other rare events. If a representative saved $100,000 of this income, it would constitute a nest-egg sufficient, if invested in bonds at current rates, to generate some $10,000 per year for the rest of the person's life.
Second, legislation should provide incentives for employers to reemploy members of the House after their term in office, just as they are now obliged to give employees time off for jury duty.
Third, like present-day Congressmembers, members of the Representative House would have the option of spending part of their term at home, and could thus (though at some personal travel expense) tend to essential personal business from time to time.
This degree of disruption of personal life for 435 people seems minimal in comparison with many disrupting elements that are well established and accepted in our society. Millions of young men, either voluntarily or through the draft in the past, spend several years in military service. Thousands of people young and old join the Peace Corps and interrupt their normal stateside lives for two or three years at a stretch. Corporate executives and career military personnel routinely accept frequent relocations to distant and often not highly desirable communities as part of their normal career pattern. Training programs, college attendance, and moves to follow the job market require uprooting of millions of people from their previous lives.
None of these involve the excitement of participating in important government decisions, the development of skills in evaluating legislation, or the sense of power that would belong to members of the Representative House. We might, indeed, hope for the evolution of a new kind of citizen political figure: members of the new House with the simple eloquence of a Lincoln or the moral force of an Elizabeth Cady Stanton or Barbara Jordan &emdash; people who would rise brilliantly to the new opportunities for direct expression of the people's needs and feelings.
Many such members of the Representative House would, after their terms of office, continue as forceful defenders of the public good in their home communities, offering new vitality there; some might also decide to run for elective office. The effect would be an enrichment of the country's political life, and a welcome sense of bonding and confidence between the people and current or past occupants of House seats &emdash; in place of the present prevalent hostility and suspicion.
20. The Representative House Would
Encourage Cooperation Among Members
The founders of our Republic expressed a distinct view about human behavior in the constitutional structure and in The Federalist Papers. Humans were divided into many groups by natural qualities, by social conditions and by changing circumstances, which gave rise to "factions." Natural qualities were God-given differences such as gender or ethnicity; women and native Americans were not suited to vote or hold office. Social conditions that create human differences were slavery, poverty, moral and physical degeneracy &emdash; additional reasons for not being allowed to vote. In addition minimum ages were established for various elected offices because social conditions determined suitability on the basis of age.
It was "changing circumstances" that most determined the political views of humans held by the founding fathers. Factions were inevitable and inherently the basic source of human conflict. Farmers were a faction in conflict with townsfolk, mountaineers were a faction opposed to coastal dwellers, and so on. Factions arose out of a human predisposition toward squabbling, greed, and self-serving behavior. The Federalist solutions were many: geographical representation in the House with short terms of office and majority voting; a bicameral legislature; an independent executive and judiciary with broad geographic bases and long-term policy responsibilities. The whole intent of the structure was to diffuse factional conflict over geography, time and social class.
Two hundred years have not changed our consensus views of human behavior very much, but they have changed slightly. Women and others are allowed to vote as we have decided that natural differences and social conditions do not create human differences of sufficient magnitude to be debilitating in the political process. Further, some of us now see factions in other terms than natural dispositions toward mutually hostile behavior. Farmers are in conflict with city folk on some issues because their differing needs and experiences have shaped their views. Farmers want irrigation from river water to supplement rain as a source of water for their crops, city folk want river water for drinking, recreation and as a transport for waste
disposal. Greed is not the core issue &emdash; resource sharing, conservation, and allocation are. This kind of thinking allows us to look at conflict resolution in more manageable and optimistic terms.
Contemporary popular thinking will probably grow to favor such an approach as Americans get a chance to be comfortable with the concept. An elective legislature rewards divisiveness and encourages competition and corruption. A sortition legislature brings out the cooperative spirit and encourages socially concerned behavior.
21. Democratic Representation Will
Strengthen the Republic
Some will claim that, despite the professed ideals and apparent democratic structures of American government, strong and efficient government on the imperial scale of twentieth-century America requires the existence of a powerful elite that can dominate the society. Only the members of such an elite, it is argued, can perceive long-range problems, secure expert advice, come to a consensus among themselves, and lead the mass of society to act in ways that will meet the problems, even if often at great cost. (The Trilateral Commission was an attempt to formalize such an elite role.) The present American Congress, this position holds, is a necessary evil because it gives the people the illusion of control over the government; it is tolerable to the elite because the price of managing Congress is well within the means available to the elite. But an unmanageable Representative House would hamstring long-range policy making and weaken the republic.
This view, pretending to Macchiavellian "realism," places itself outside the candid discourse of democratic societies, but it must be dealt with nonetheless. We note, first, that it presumes that the interests of the elite are rightly predominant and that the elite's definitions of problems and solutions are inherently more important than the people's. We know of no axiom to justify this position except the view that property is more important than people, and a society seeking long-term stability is ill-advised to rely on such a view.
It is likely that a government including a Representative House would develop somewhat different long-range policies than the present government produces, but policies there would be. If the differences were due principally to a more acute perception of the social costs of different policies, they might in fact strengthen the republic; they might, for instance, produce a healthier environment for its inhabitants, improve its medical delivery services, increase its literacy and its educational and technological capacities, minimize its wastefulness in military procurement, preserve its eroding crop lands, and so on. When elite spokesmen speak of "strong government," they tend to mean one with activist policies, adopted at the expense and risk of the public, which enable the government to influence international (as well as domestic) affairs for the benefit of business. We do not know whether a Representative House would be more or less jingoistic than the present House, and thus "strengthen" or "weaken" American intervention in the rest of the world. In either case, however, policies adopted could be presumed to have much greater public backing than at present. This is a kind of government strength that other nations, both friendly and hostile, would have to respect.
It has often been argued that the "weakness" of democratic societies is their divisiveness, their openness to political argument, their reluctance to give even popular rulers the power to suppress dissent and move forcefully against enemies. In its history thus far, the United States has had only mixed success in its restraint of powerful leaders bent on doubtful inter-national adventures. If a Representative House had been in existence during the post-World War II epoch, it might have spared us most of the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the 1965 invasion of the Dominican Republic, and our involvements in Central America. Such "weakness" would have made the country's recent history, we can now see in retrospect, a much happier one, with a greater degree of internal coherence &emdash; and probably a much healthier economy.
22. The Representative House Would Not
Disturb the Balance of Power
The theory of balance of power that underlies our constitutional structure assumes specific law-making, watch-dog and budget-setting functions for Congress. Congress is given a wide range of powers, from the Senate's consent in dealing with executive appointments and signing treaties to the entire Congress's power to declare war. We do not want to affect this balance unless it is clearly for the better.
The Congress of 1816 supervised a budget of $30 million, raised primarily from customs duties; in comparison the present budget is in the hundred of billions and comes to 23% of the GNP. The Congress of 1816 had 186 members, 243 employees and supervised an executive branch with 4,480 employees. Today the executive branch has 5.1 million employees, with 680,000 overseas. The 700 million acres of lands owned by the Federal government, many with valuable natural resources, are worth hundreds of billions of dollars.
The power of Congress to control or at least check the executive is always a changing balance. Under Presidents Taft and Ford, Congress established its own priorities and acted with considerable independence. Under Presidents Roosevelt and Johnson, Congress was often a rubber stamp.
Two current issues of power balance are actively being debated. One concerns the assumption of war-making powers by the executive branch. Two major wars and numerous invasions have been carried out by the executive branch without a Congressional declaration of war.
The other concerns Congress's ongoing power to set the national budget. The executive branch has occasionally chosen to not spend appropriations made by Congress &emdash; a veto power that is not in the constitution. Additionally, on the same subject, the Supreme Court recently ruled against a long-standing Congressional practice of building "review hearings" into agency budgets &emdash; another reduction of Congress's power.
At present the executive proposes programs and budgets and Congress modifies them. Congress is generally too poorly organized, and sometimes too paralyzed by interest group or party conflicts, to originate either. This has not always been the case.
The American people have traditionally desired a weak central government with occasional reversal of that tendency during war time. We place far greater trust than most peoples in local government and voluntary institutions. The balance of powers was a concept designed to avoid federal tyranny and oligarchy.
The present Congress has been unsuccessful in retaining its share of constitutional power, even though it has increased its total number of employees, since the 1930s, from 1,150 to 31,800. In the 1970s it added its own economic forecasting section to cross-check that of the executive branch.
A Representative House would have several disadvantages in the battle for power against the executive, and at least one advantage, its great moral authority. The Representative House would not have many long-term members to remember and pass on to new members the tricks used by the executive to gain consent for its programs, nor would those long-term members be around to audit policies that are implemented over long periods of time (such as complex weapons systems or relations with international agencies). On the other hand, the Senate would still exist and would have many long-term members to fulfill these functions.
What would be the source of power of the new Representative House? Our elected House speaks with the authority of the interests its members are supported by: corporations and trade associations, above all, plus the unions and citizen organizations that also provide money needed for election and reelection. When members are challenged, these interests can be mobilized in defense, influencing the media and public opinion. The Congress, in an election system, is as strong as its connections.
A Representative House, like the Supreme Court, is an institution of another kind. The source of the Court's power is our allegiance to the constitution. The source of the House's authority would be a similar moral authority &emdash; rooted, like the president's own, in the nation &emdash; in the fundamental democratic concept of the consent of the governed. The ultimate power of the people behind the authority of a Representative House is the eternal possibility of rebellion and resistance. The withdrawal of consent by even a large minority may make a modern industrial society unworkable. The United States had a taste of this phenomenon during the conflict over the Vietnam War, when a substantial portion of American young people, many from elite families, turned against their fathers' war. An established Representative House would speak with what Alexander Hamilton in the Federalist Papers called the "irresistible force possessed by that branch of a free government which has the people on its side." In democratic societies, that is the final authority.
23. The Senate Would Remain and Represent
State and Party Interests
Scholars dispute the causes of the decline in strength of American political parties since World War II. Our parties no longer maintain effective ward or county organizations capable of doing favors for numerous ordinary citizens in return for votes. Their ostensible ideological profiles, always blurred, have become increasingly indistinguishable. And as political campaigning has become less a matter of direct personal contact with potential supporters and more reliant on media advertising and manipulation, ties between politicians and the mass of voters have weakened &emdash; along with ties among politicians, who now tend to be more needy of money from contributors than they are of favors from colleagues. The strength of party identification among voters has declined, with markedly more cross-over voting and a massive increase in the number of people who do register and vote but call themselves independents &emdash; together with the growing numbers who neither register nor vote.
Under such circumstances, how would a Representative House affect the party structure? The parties would continue to raise funds, campaign for office, develop platforms, and reward their friends and supporters, though their national operations would now focus entirely on the presidency and the Senate. The existence of the Representative House would in time exert some indirect influence on the remaining election process, probably favoring politicians who were skillful in preparing legislation that could win approval of the House over those whose bills were uniformly rejected. That is, the new House might make the party machinery somewhat more responsive to general public needs. The threat of the extension of the sortition principle to state legislatures might also have salutary effects on state governments and party organizations. The adoption of a Representative House, though it would weaken the sense of geographic constituency, would not significantly alter the existing geographic distribution of Representatives. States with large populations would continue to send proportionately large numbers of Representatives to Washington, and states with small populations would continue to send small numbers; geographical balance would thus be preserved. (Politically controversial problems of redistricting would be avoided, however.) Moreover, Senators would continue to be elected on a state-by-state basis, so they would go on representing the special interests of their respective states &emdash; especially the corporate interests in those states. No change would thus be likely in the national geographic balance of power because of the change to direct representation.
24. The Representative House Would
Respond More Rapidly to New Problems
On the whole, we believe that a Representative House would fit in easily with the generally anti-ideological tenor of American public political life, in which party leaders and ideas are drawn toward central areas of consensus, and class differences are generally downplayed.
In one respect a Representative House can definitely be expected to increase the responsiveness of the American political system. Unlike other parliamentary democracies, we have only two parties. This arrangement is fortified by many institutional features which make entrance onto the political scene impossible for a new party except under truly revolutionary circumstances, such as prevailed at the birth of the Republican party. (At that time, neither the Democrats nor the other existing party, the Whigs, were willing to respond to the new national anti-slavery majority; the new Republican party grew up, with startling rapidity, to represent that majority &emdash; and to preside over the Civil War.)
Our two parties thus tend to split over long-standing traditional quarrels while new and pressing issues go unattended, as has happened in recent years with environmental problems of deep concern to the people. Entrance of such problems onto the national agenda is thus delayed, by contrast with parliamentary systems having a number of smaller parties &emdash; one or another of which is usually accessible to new issues and new ideas about them.
A Representative House, not being captive to the two dominant parties, could be expected to be still more flexible and open in devoting attention to new national problems &emdash; though here too, we offer no hope of a panacea, since media corporations would presumably maintain much of their present control over the perceived political agenda.
25. The Representative House Would Restore a
Sense of Citizenship
The most positive result we can envision flowing from a Representative House is some restoration of the dwindling sense among ordinary Americans that they have a legitimate and honorable stake in their country &emdash; that they have been and will be listened to. The great waves of skepticism, resignation, confusion, and cynicism which sweep large masses of people as they confront the results of the arms race and the economic policies of their government would be greatly mitigated if people felt their peers had a proper share in making public policy, instead of merely being victimized by powerful interests.
The coming years will not be easy ones for ordinary Americans. The fear of nuclear annihilation is growing, and we now know that human extinction, at least in the Northern Hemisphere, could follow the nuclear-winter effects of even "minor" nuclear exchanges. The economic situation shows few credible signs of significant long-range improvement. The slow decline in real income (the amount of bread you buy with an hour's work) which began for most Americans about 1969 has left us with a lower standard of living. The prospects for rebuilding our decaying infrastructure &emdash; housing, roads, bridges, railroads, subways, water systems &emdash; seem dim, and the effects of the decay bear most heavily on ordinary people. The chemical pollution of the national environment, with the drinking water of some 40% of our population likely to be imperiled in the next decade, bears hardest on those who cannot afford bottled water or filtering systems, and on those whose workplaces and neighborhoods are most heavily contaminated with carcinogenic compounds.
In the great post-World War II expansionary period, marked injustice in the distribution of society's goods and other rewards was accepted largely because of the consistent experience that next year the whole pie, and therefore even unjustly small portions of it, would grow. In the present period, when we confront the finiteness of earth's resources and the likelihood of long-term American relative economic decline (until we and the other industrial nations reach some rough parity) many people are likely to press for more open, equal cooperative dealings in both business and government. The example of more cooperative and coherent societies adept at living within limited resources, such as Japan, Sweden, and Finland, may come to seem much more appropriate to our new situation.
A Representative House would presumably be greatly more receptive to this shift in attitudes. By encouraging worker ownership, worker representation on boards of directors, and more equable distribution of income, it could ease our transition into this less comfortable era.
26. Practical Implementation Is Possible, Beginning on the State Level
Might a Representative House be adopted into the American system? Barring widespread rebellion and the adoption of a wholly new government, this would require either a constitutional amendment or an action by a constitutional convention. Is there any reason to believe, then, that Congress itself or three quarters of the states might someday come to favor a Representative House?
The prospect is far more threatening to established interests and their political friends, in terms of actual power shifts, than were previous extensions of the suffrage. Adding blacks or women to the voting rolls (except for the case of blacks in some Southern localities where they constituted a majority) brought no sudden structural changes. Moreover, it is only after blacks have had the vote (in principle) for a hundred years that important black politicians have begun to emerge; women have had the vote for sixty years before the emergence of the current "gender gap" differentiating their voting patterns from men's. The adoption of a Representative House would of course remove from power a significant number of influential persons, as well as deprive their friends and dependents throughout the country of helpful influence in Washington. This is a prospect all concerned can be expected to oppose with every political resource available to them.
Nevertheless, we believe that the idea of direct representation is not quixotic. Once it is widely understood, it will have the same overwhelming appeal to fairness and justice that motivated extensions of the suffrage. Every failure of attempts to curb the influence of money on electoral campaigns will make the idea a little less bizarre and a little more attractive. No people, and least of all Americans descended from the fiercely democratic colonists, could be expected to display lasting enthusiasm for the kind of pseudo-representation that has come to afflict us under our existing arrangements. In time, thus, sortition will seem the only reliable way to restore the voice of the people to the high councils of the republic.
Aside from intermittent attempts to reduce corruption, the defects of our electoral system have not received much concerted thought in recent years. We do not know if this is due to resignation, complacency, or simply a lack of intellectual curiosity. For example, Michael Walzer, one of our most distinguished political philosophers, recently published Spheres of Justice: A Defense of Pluralism and Equality (Basic Books, 1983), in which elections are not discussed at all, though the book is a thoughtful and in other respects comprehensive survey of our methods of distributing offices and goods. What makes this especially curious is that Walzer is aware of the Greek uses of sortition and of the current possibilities for using lotteries for greater fairness in such areas as the granting of jobs or grants among equally qualified candidates, but the only application of the sortition principle to politics that he can conceive is the odd notion that individual citizens might be given random chances to "pass" legislation &emdash; a notion which, of course, he properly dismisses.
Despite the novelty of the direct-representation idea at present, and the surprise that it naturally occasions when people first encounter it, we believe that like women's suffrage, legalized abortion, no-smoking sections in planes or restaurants, or mandatory recycling of cans and bottles, it can gradually gain credibility &emdash; especially through trials on the local level, where the above issues first gained acceptance. As it happens, there are 23 states that currently have an initiative process and could fairly readily vote to introduce a sortition process into the selection of their lower-house representatives.
There is one legislature in the country where the adoption of sortition would produce less abrupt change than in other places. The lower house of the Oregon legislature presently has 23% women members, and only 18% lawyers. Oregon, though a nominally Republican state, has been for some decades one of the most socially innovative of the states, and if a state experiment in sortition comes, Oregon is a likely place for it.
Another state that is a possible candidate for early experimentation with direct representation is Massachusetts. It currently has an initiative process, a large lower house (160 members) and a long history of town meeting democracy on a local level. Two elements make the Massachusetts House of Representatives an interesting prospect for such a change. First, the size of the legislature has long been a publicly discussed political issue in the state, so that the relation between size and representativeness has already become a familiar question. Second, the legislature convenes in a major city, Boston, where urban newspapers regularly keep the citizenry abreast of political developments and improvements would be quickly recognized and appreciated.
The Massachusetts debate bears on the more general question of how large bodies must be (whether elected or chosen by sortition) to be, in principle, properly broad and representative. Houses of state legislatures usually have less than 100 members. Juries of 12 pseudo-randomly selected people are commonly used to weigh very serious issues. Many city and county councils are about the same size as a jury, and this size seems to have proved generally satisfactory. Therefore it is a reasonable question whether such smaller bodies could also be chosen by sortition. The answer is yes, at least where such groups would operate under conditions similar to a jury.
The reason that members of such a small group could be effective representatives has to do with the statistical nature of "representation." Any theoretical "group" is generally considered representative if its attributes are predictably within 5% of the figures for the same attributes for the whole population. The minimum size of any group that meets this requirement is determined by the magnitude of variation of the attributes in the whole population. If an attribute is known and its prevalence is great, such as the proportion of people who don't like brown drinking water or the proportion of Americans who can understand the word "STOP" on a street sign, then a very small randomly selected group can reliably be used to represent the whole population on those issues. If the question were "Would you allow 50% more dirt in your water if the water bill dropped by 25%?" then ten randomly selected people would be enough to know the answer. Similarly if the question put to a small group was whether to use a round sign that said "PAUSE," we would get a reliable decision.
Juries are reliable for this reason. We assume that basic moral values are fairly similar for all people in our culture; therefore twelve people asked to judge unanimously whether some matter of alleged fact is "beyond a shadow of doubt" can achieve the same result as the whole population, given the same evidence and instructions. The same principle applies to small legislative bodies. If we required unanimous consent from a randomly selected twelve-member city council, on issues that were widely agreed upon by the population, we would get reliable results.
However, many issues faced by legislative bodies require the balancing of uncertain claims and interests, and uniform assumptions about values do not prevail on many political questions. It seems likely, therefore, that direct-representation bodies on local or state levels would gain greater public acceptance if they numbered at least 25 persons. The statistics of sortition would ensure that such a body was substantially more representative than existing smaller bodies.
If we evolve toward a society in which fairness and equality are important values &emdash; and prospects of economic and resource scarcity may loosen the hold of traditional individualist, competitive values &emdash; sortition may gradually seem a normal way of distributing many goods, including political power. On local levels, rotating leadership has been used in feminist groups, academic departments, small business collectives, affinity groups in protest movements, neighborhood organizations, and so on. Even though sortition may not be seriously considered for a legislative body for many years, experiments of this kind will gradually familiarize people with the principle. Moreover, the very existence of the concept offers a liberation from traditional notions and a kind of standard against which to judge our elected bodies as the years pass.
There is also a charming peculiarity of the Representative House that should greatly appeal to the American gambling spirit. Tens of millions of Americans presently wager large sums in casinos, lotteries, legal and illegal track and sport betting, and so on. The Representative House proposed here would offer to 145 people each year the chance to become rich, famous, and important beyond their wildest expectations. The odds of this happening to any individual during an eligible lifetime from 25 to say 75 would be slightly better than one in twenty-five thousand. Such appealing odds might greatly contribute to popular acceptance of the sortition principle. (A corollary to this statistic is the fact that after the scheme had been in effect for 25 years, every town or neighborhood with 20,000 people or so would contain one person who had served in the Congress. Presumably most of these would become valuable community assets through their experiences in Washington.)
The arrival of direct representation on the political agenda will set off a lengthy and fierce political struggle, but it is an idea that, once understood, will refuse to go away. Since we can hardly expect the existing House to vote itself out of existence, the impetus for the necessary constitutional amendment will ultimately have to come from the people operating though their state governments. That such forces can have an impact on the required scale is clear from the recent effort to compel Congress to adopt a balanced-budget amendment &emdash; or, if Congress should balk, to force the calling of a constitutional convention. This process is instructive as a matter of democratic principle. Our system still offers ways for the people to make their views heard, and they do not suffer infractions of this power lightly. In time, they may well conclude that the best solution to the unrepresentativeness of our present compromised legislators is to establish a Representative House that would provide, at last, the "transcript" of the people spoken of by the founders.
We solicited responses to the above text from a wide range of persons with varying political perspectives and experience.
We are most grateful to those who were willing to comment, for inclusion in the book, on this initial publication of our proposal. Since we believe that the sortition principle should be of interest to all people with a concern for democratic government, we hope to include additional comments from still other points of view in a future edition. &emdash; E.C. and M.P.
George Dean is the President of the California Urban League and the Sacramento Urban League.
The limitations of our so-called "representative government" are eloquently demonstrated by the fate of presidential candidate Jesse Jackson. Clearly the most articulate and charismatic of the candidates, he could never generate the millions necessary for a statewide television campaign, due in large measure to his commitment to unpopular issues.
Today we have a policy of one million dollars per candidate that nullifies the U.S. Supreme Court's historic "one man, one vote" decision.
Over the last decade, disenfranchised minorities have strongly supported a wide range of Common Cause-type political reforms. All had potential but the net result of this decade of reform is that only millionaires and those in gerrymandered districts are free from the financial pressures of political action committees (PACs).
Equally disturbing, the economic status of blacks has declined and the vast majority of our representatives, increasingly beholden to PACs, care little and do less.
From the perspective of this nation's black population, there appears to be little risk and much potential from an experiment with a citizen legislature that could draw one quarter of its representatives from our nation's fifty-nine million poor and near-poor.
Robert Gnaizda of Public Advocates is an attorney who won women the right to be police officers, blacks the right to be in fire departments and Filipinos to be CPAs. He removed the legal limit on savings accounts for senior citizens and released federal dairy surpluses for the poor to eat.
Few who dare to closely examine our political process have any doubt as to its potential for corruption, ineffectiveness and exorbitant costs. Most alarming, those who do not examine our political process closely have drawn the same conclusions. This is why a majority of Americans refuse to vote and it is why the so-called "best and brightest" are seldom elected to legislatures and almost never chosen for leadership roles.
Talented political reformers, such as Common Cause, have increasingly been successful in appearing to reform the process. In reality they have failed. The reformers, in their zeal, have ignored a key fact of life: the talents of reformers rarely exceed the cunning and ambition of those they seek to reform.
As a result of the last decade of reform, which has produced frequent one-million-dollar local legislative races and an abundance of multi-million-dollar PACs, an increasing number of Americans have accepted the fact that modest reforms do not work. It is why I support, on a state level, having one house of a bicameral legislature chosen from our citizens at large, at least as a pilot program for one decade. This will provide us with sufficient time to determine the validity of the thesis developed by the authors of this book while still allowing legislative and executive oversight from the governor and the other house.
With a few modest restrictions on citizen eligibility, I believe the integrity of the citizen legislature would exceed that of any legislature in America. As for the intelligence of its leaders&emdash;,they would clearly be at least as intelligent and would be far more effective since the leaders would be free from corrupt political pressures.
The modest restrictions on eligibility for this citizen legislature would include limiting service to those 21 to 70, require at least two prior registrations to vote as a sign of interest in the political process, set a minimum English literacy standard, require a six-week professional training course, and permit the citizen legislature to evict any of its unqualified members for cause.
A key criticism of a citizen legislature is that it is similar to the jury system and the jury system has failed. The citizen legislature, although modeled after a jury system, contains none of its defects. Offering a salary approximately three times the average family income, and a four-year term of office, 99% of all Americans who are selected would undoubtedly serve. In contrast, the majority of our citizens and 99% of our leaders do not serve on juries because lawyers consider them "too qualified or knowledgeable."
Moreover, whatever the frailties of the jury system may be, and they are many, the vast majority of Americans have always preferred to have important decisions affecting their lives or property decided by juries rather than by politically appointed judges, many of whom were once legislators.
Loni Hancock, who was formerly an elected city council member in Berkeley, California, is now the co-director of Initiatives for Campaign Reform, 680 Beach Street, Suite 462, San Francisco, CA 94109.
Traveling in Greece for a month last year, I also became intrigued with the notion of a randomly selected governing body, and whether an idea that worked brilliantly for several centuries in a small, pre-industrial city state can be adapted to the needs of a huge polyglot post-industrial nation.
America's democratic system for choosing representatives and defining our community life also worked brilliantly for several centuries. It is now trying to adapt to a basic contradiction &emdash; unlimited private dollars which confound the democratic selection process to the point where, as George Orwell put it, "all are equal, but some are more equal than others." When "some are more equal than others" the game is rigged, and it is understandable why the unequal players opt out of the game through non-participation or disrupt the game with violence. When "some are more equal than others" the social contract of a democracy is threatened.
The idea of a lottery is at first thought absurd, and at second thought obvious. It raises fundamental questions in new ways. It ought to be part of the public debate on retaining a vigorous democracy in the United States. It might work.
I have two major questions about a lottery:
Leadership: Granted that present legislators are no more perspicacious than the rest of us, the fact remains that many of them are there for many years. We live in an extraordinarily complicated world in which "knowing the details" of an issue or a parliamentary procedure can make all the difference.
I see no way for persons serving one three-year term to become conversant with the nuances of issues and procedure, develop alternatives, build a public constituency for them (which requires understanding of media and the skills to use it) and oversee implementation of a new program or policy. Rare individuals may be able to have some impact in one issue area, but the long-term leadership will come from the Senate which, in this proposal, is still elected on the basis of money.
Randomly selected delegates in the lower house will rely heavily on the three-month training period to become minimally conversant with issues and legislative process. This simply means that the trainers (bureaucrats) will have enormous power to define alternatives by providing information to people with few alternative resources. In this proposal, the trainers can practically define the national options. And, who will train the trainers?
The Jury Analogy: The lottery system as proposed is essentially voluntary. There is the option of simply collecting the salary and going on with one's daily life. Our present jury system is compulsory. Even so, and even though the term of service is rarely more than one month, it has had problems achieving representative participation.
I recently served on a jury in Alameda County Superior Court on which I was the only "professional." All the other doctors, lawyers, accountants, etc. whose "numbers came up" pleaded hardship and were excused by the judge.
There is a real danger that a non-compulsory lottery system would have such a high non-attendance rate that it would not be representative. Even a compulsory system like our jury system might have so many "excused absences" that the same result would occur.
There are many reasons for reluctance to set aside three years to serve as a legislator. Some people simply passionately want to do something else &emdash; whether write a novel or make a million dollars. And what about families? Would spouses be helped to relocate in Washington, DC? What about moving children, schools, etc.? It may be possible to mitigate these problems &emdash; they need more thought.
A major flaw, I think, is that the lottery system, as proposed, would leave power in the hands of bureaucrats and those elected and re-elected to the upper house through undue influence of money. The lottery should be accompanied by traditional campaign reform. If the total system is to work, it requires a Senate elected on the basis of ideas and leadership qualities, not money.
Initiatives for Campaign Reform, a non-profit research and advocacy group, has concluded that a real level playing field for ideas requires three things: limits on the amount of each contribution to election campaigns; limits on how much a campaign can spend; and citizen financing of campaigns. There are many ways to implement citizen financing. After a year-long study, ICR recommends matching small contributions (under $500) from individuals with money from a public fund.
Citizen financing is controversial and absolutely essential. It is the key to an elected legislature that works for the public good rather than for large campaign contributors. ICR's study found that two thirds of the contributions to the average legislative campaign in California now come from political action committees (PACs), banks and corporations. Only 14% comes from individuals. Only 9% is small contributions (under $100). Given these percentages, simply limiting contribution size won't work. For example, PACs can divide, with each subPAC making the maximum contribution; checks can be "bundled" and delivered at the same time by a lobbyist to make sure the legislator "gets the message," etc.
For real independence to vote their conscience, an alternative to special-interest money is necessary, and that alternative source of money can only be the citizens-at-large. The polis as the Greeks called it. ICR is working to achieve public support for citizen financing of elections. We found that by eliminating even one of the numerous tax loopholes and preferences now enacted to appease big contributors, citizen financing would more than pay for itself. We have been told that we are "too idealistic" and that the special interests whose power is based on money are so entrenched in our country that real democracy will not be possible again. We don't believe it. To believe it is to give up on the best hope of achieving a world in which people matter &emdash; a world that has been struggling to be achieved from the time of the Greek city states, through the Renaissance and the founding of national democracies in the Age of Reason. We've come too far and too many have worked too hard to allow the "interested few" to take over our democracy by buying the process by which we choose the makers of public decisions.
ICR plans to promote our recommendations for all elective offices in the state of California. We applaud the entry of the lottery concept into the debate, however.
If we devise ways to iron out the problems of de facto bureaucratic takeover, and the voluntary&endash;compulsory conundrum, a sortition lower house would be a friendly addition to the alternatives under consideration. It can only be helpful to have democracy's roots and premises in the forefront of our thinking as we explore fundamental solutions instead of tinkering with the symptoms.
Malcolm Margolin is the author of East Bay Out, The Ohlone Way, and The Way We Lived. He is also the founder of Heyday Books.
The present system of electing representatives is certainly flawed and abused. But it has survived for a couple of hundred years, demonstrating surprising resilience, and before chucking it for an untried idea, I would suggest that a few preliminary experiments with sortition might be advisable. The medical profession, for example, is dreadfully and perniciously undemocratic, dominated by wealthy white males with (I seriously believe) socially harmful consequences. Therefore let us first use sortition to choose doctors (or, if we want to be very cautious, candidates to medical school). That way we can be assured that the doctors of the future will reflect the society in a most exact transcript, which will undoubtedly greatly improve the quality of medical services. We might also choose our dentists, judges, plumbers, engineers, police officers, and architects this way &emdash; perhaps giving them all tenures of three years in their assigned professions lest they become jaded and corrupt.
If the above proposition appears preposterous, it is because we recognize that to be an excellent doctor, dentist, judge, plumber, engineer, police officer, or architect one must have aptitude, interest, intelligence, and the willingness and time to cultivate professional skills. No matter how deep my democratic feelings and my commitment to civil rights, I would not entrust my body to a group of doctors chosen by sortition from the general populace, nor would I trust the nation to a group of legislators chosen the same way. Legislating, I believe, is (at least ideally &emdash; and this is what we are talking about, ideal forms of government) a pursuit that demands a high level of skill and experience. Perhaps the current system of electing our representatives fails us in this regard &emdash; although it is at least arguable that those who get elected to public office have assembled a staff, run a campaign, raised and handled huge sums of money, gained the support of diverse elements in the society, made some convincing speeches, and otherwise demonstrated at least some ability to exercise the arts of leadership. If, as you suggest (and I fully agree), people chosen this way are not skilled or responsible enough, this is a grievous defect in the present system. But it is not, to my mind, an indication that such qualities are unnecessary, and I do not see how it benefits the nation to devise a new system that even further devalues aptitude, skill, and experience.
The most severe drawback to government by lottery &emdash; one that makes it in my eyes totally unacceptable &emdash; is that it cuts people off from the opportunity to vote for their congressional representatives. Voting is the major (often the only) political act in most people's lives. However imperfect the process, millions of citizens examine the actions of their congressional representatives every two years and vote. It is this specific citizen endorsement &emdash; not any abstract idea of democratic representation &emdash; that gives the government its legitimacy and insures citizen acceptance of the government's decisions. I am quite fearful of any process which cuts millions of people off from participating in their own government &emdash; cuts the bonds that connect the ruled with those who rule.
This connection is particularly important on the congressional level. The elections of president and senators are huge and seemingly abstract &emdash; almost like distant media events. One feels very little personal effectiveness in such situations. To speak for myself, my only direct connection to the federal government in Washington is through my congressman. I have met him and I know several of his staff members. I have contributed to his campaign, and have supported and endorsed him. He is my one and only link with Washington.
Through him and his office I feel that I have a voice in the legislative process. If I disagree with a particular bill, I feel that I can write to him or call one of his staff members, and I feel that my opinions will at least get a hearing. Sure, the situation is far from ideal, but it is through him &emdash; and only through him &emdash; that I feel some small (but all-important) sense of influence over the forces that run my life. Without this linkage, what power do I have? I have never met either of my senators nor do I know the president. Take away the elected congressman and you further alienate millions of people like myself from their government &emdash; creating a greater impersonalizing and distancing that I think is terribly dangerous for the nation and would spell the end of the democratic process.
Despite the populist rhetoric, I find your entire proposal to be disturbingly contemptuous of the people. Like it or not, the present congress (which you obviously despise) was elected by large numbers of the very people whose wisdom and good judgment you extol. I agree that its composition is not even an approximate transcript of the population at large, but I wonder (I am not certain) whether this does not represent the will of the people. It is at least worth considering whether the people in electing the kinds of congressional candidates they do have deliberately chosen not to be governed by their barber, their accountant, the unemployed derelict who hangs around the neighborhood liquor store, or the nice lady who runs the cosmetic counter at Woolworth's. Perhaps the reason they elect the people they do is not because they are stupid or duped, but because they want to be ruled by people whom they perceive (however mistakenly) as successful, powerful, and capable, and in our culture these people tend to be wealthy, white males often with a background in law. Such people do not represent my own ideas of excellence, and I personally believe most of the choices made by our electorate are wrong. But I am deeply enough committed to the democratic process to believe that the rights of people to choose their own leaders must be respected and defended, and (however grave its shortcomings) is vastly preferable to your patronizing idea of having the choice made for them by the laws of random selection.
Beyond its theoretical shortcomings, I'm afraid that I find the idea of government by lottery to be (to put it bluntly) utterly silly and unworkable. I read, for example, your description of what a debate might be among the assembled and stalwart yeomanry, how responsibly and intelligently they will conduct themselves, yielding to one another, listening acutely to arguments, weighing decisions. It is possible, I believe, and without too much exaggeration, to picture a different kind of scene. Among these people, given the laws of random selection, will be a few who will be talking to themselves out loud. Several dozen will be outright alcoholics and there will probably be a heroin addict or two. I can picture the debate over a bill &emdash; let us say a bill of some complexity dealing with international trade. Most of those listening to the debates have not read a book since high school, and simply do not have the patience or the concentration or the background to follow difficult and tedious arguments for very long. In the old days, when the House of Representatives was an elected body, House members had staffs who could study issues and prepare reports. But most of the members of the sortition House do not have the ability to choose talented staffs, direct them, and use the information generated by them. In addition, most of the members are having grave personal problems, their lives in total disarray caused by a sudden influx of money that they don't know how to handle, a change of occupation, a move to a distant city, and separation from family and friends. In fact, personal problems are causing such stress that most of the new House members cannot concentrate very effectively on anything.
Yet the debate goes on. We first hear from the Jesus caucus,
an especially strong, numerous, and well organized body of the new House, whose members, one after the other, argue that prayer and a firm belief in God will solve the problem at hand. They are convinced, in fact, that they were not chosen by chance at all, but by the hand of God to lead the nation on the path of righteousness. Then comes Old Gertie, the bag lady, who sees every issue as still another example of how the Communists are poisoning the drinking water with fluoride as part of the conspiracy to drive her crazy and cheat her of her rightful place as queen of Rumania. Meanwhile the three prostitutes are parading their wares on the floor, much to the hooting and delight of the truck-driver caucus who are listening to radios on the House floor and drinking beer. As for the more intelligent, quiet, and potentially dedicated people, they have long been driven out by the sheer exasperation and tedium of the proceedings. If anything gets done, it will be through the efforts of the permanent staff &emdash; who in this situation of chaos and continually changing membership will be the only ones who know how to get things done, and who in the final analysis will be the ones who will actually rule the House &emdash; assuming that the House is by this time worth ruling at all.
To counter this possibility, you continually point to the success of the jury system, but the differences between a jury system and government by lottery are profound. A jury consists of only twelve people. These twelve are chosen rather carefully &emdash; with prosecutor, defense attorney, and judge all having the right to sift through and eliminate candidates. The questions the jury must decide are rather limited &emdash; generally only a single question of right or wrong in a specific instance and within the framework of a well articulated body of law and precedent &emdash; and in this decision they are guided by a judge who explains carefully what they can and cannot consider. A jury might be in session for two days, five days, or even weeks in deliberating this single and well defined issue, and even then its decision may be appealed and overruled if it is felt that they have overstepped their bounds. This is qualitatively different from throwing hundreds of people randomly chosen into a room, with huge numbers of issues (some only vaguely defined) that they will have to consider each day, all without careful guidance.
These are some of my major objections to the idea of government by lottery. I have many other objections, and in fact I find myself taking issue with just about every point you raise. I do not, for example, think a randomly chosen governing body would be as free from corruption as you imagine &emdash; far from it. I suspect many people chosen to serve will shirk their destinies, just as they shirk the far less onerous duties of serving on a jury today. In fact I suspect the more experienced and accomplished the person is in his or her own personal life, the more likely that person would be to avoid serving. In fact, I'm sorry to admit that the only value I have thus far derived from considering your arguments for a government by lottery is that the more I delve into it the better the present (admittedly wretched) form of government seems.
Mario Obledo is the National President of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), the nation's largest Hispanic membership organization, and former Secretary of Health and Welfare for the State of California (1975-1982).
Our nation, which includes 49 million blacks and Hispanics, or a population larger than 90% of the member countries of the United Nations, does not presently have any Hispanic or black U.S. Senators.
This situation has caused many minority leaders and the minority community to question the fundamental fairness and future of our so-called "representative" government. How, they ask, can government be representative when most governmental bodies do not include persons from the two largest ethnic and racial communities in America, in any significant numbers.
Thus, we see much merit to a citizen legislature. Surely, some of its members, free from financial and political retaliation, will strive for and perhaps achieve the greatness not duplicated since the era of our founding fathers. I have no doubt whatsoever that such a legislative assembly would do a marvelous job.
Mark Satin is the author of New Age Politics and the founder and editor of the newsletter New Options (P.O. Box 19324, Washington, DC 20036 &emdash; $25.00 per year).
There's a huge gap between the political visions of "alternative" thinkers and activists, and the practical political ideas we tend to present to the general public.
Our visions are, quite often, rich and compelling. But our policy ideas are, too often, warmed-over liberalism. Wooden and "correct" and who gives a damn.
The genius of Callenbach and Phillips's book is that they've taken a key alternative vision ("let the people decide") and translated it into an eminently sensible, practical and realizable proposal, without stripping it of its system-transcending core.
Thanks guys. The trouble is, that's not enough &emdash; not nearly enough.
Living in Washington, you quickly realize that political ideas are a dime a dozen. Even good political ideas. Getting them adopted is the real political challenge. Another two years here and I might write, "Getting them adopted is the only thing."
What is the constituency that will fight for your ideas? Why will it fight for your ideas, instead of the hundreds of other ideas now going begging for people's attention and commitment? What organizations can we count on to mobilize that constituency?
Charlene Spretnak is co-author of Green Politics: The Global Promise (Dutton) which she wrote with Fritjof Capra. She is also editor of The Politics of Women's Spirituality (Anchor/Doubleday) and is a cofounder of the Committees of Correspondence (P.O. Box 40040, St. Paul, MN 55104), a national, regionally based political organization that has kinship with Green parties around the world.
When I tell people of the Callenbach-Phillips proposal, they invariably laugh or smile skeptically. My own initial reaction was the same. But the interesting thing is that no one laughs for very long once he or she starts thinking it through.
My response to the proposal addresses points of agreement, suggested changes, and suggested additions.
I believe Callenbach and Phillips are correct to propose structural change in our selection of lawmakers rather than merely trying to fine-tune the present system, the inequities of which have actually been worsened by some of the recent reforms. First and foremost is the problem that our federal senators and representatives are bought. In this era of extremely expensive media-oriented campaigns, the answer to "Who gets to go to Washington?" is that old saw: "Them that's got the gold gets." In a rightfully disturbing article titled "What's Wrong with Congress?" (The Atlantic, December 1984), Gregg Easterbrook cites findings by the Congress Watch organization that representatives who sponsored the milder of two versions of the Superfund bill for the cleanup of toxic wastes, favored by business, averaged $4,784 in contributions from chemical-company PACs; those who sponsored the strict version averaged $532 from such companies. In addition to Congressional voting being influenced by large campaign contributions, there is the problem that our lawmakers must continually hustle campaign funding, especially in the House with elections every two years. Once in a while I read interviews with freshman representatives who admit they are so consumed by attracting enough donations to pay off old campaign debts and to accumulate a sufficient amount for the next election that they simply do not have time to do a good job.
Callenbach and Phillips are also correct in noting that our present system of representation is clearly not very representative. Who goes to Congress now? Largely white, uppermiddle-class males whose appearance, voice, and mannerisms work well with media demands. These men have similar educations, similar class experiences, similar priorities &emdash; and gender-role conditioning and bonding that influence their perspectives. It warms my feminist heart to think that the Callenbach-Phillips proposal would result in 51% of our House representatives being women and in all classes, ethnic groups, and races having true representation.
Citizens who oppose measures to achieve gender balance in Congress might do well to recall the words of one of the Founding Mothers, Abigail Adams. In her famous "Remember the Ladies" letter written to her husband, John Adams, at the Second Continental Congress in 1776, she observed: "If particular care and attention are not paid to the Ladies, we are determined to foment a Rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound to obey any Laws in which we have no voice or Representation."
A secondary benefit of random selection from the populace is that Americans might actually insist on a high quality of public education: would we want to be governed by people lacking a sense of history, critical thinking and communication skills, ecological wisdom, "science literacy," global responsibility, and knowledge of various economic systems (especially a steady-state, decentralized, community-based version of capitalism!)?
Not only are different kinds of people missing from Congress today, but so are different kinds of political thinking beyond the A-to-B gamut of Republican and Democrat. In my research on the Green parties of Western Europe, I discovered that they have won seats at the federal level only in countries that have proportional representation: Belgium and West Germany.
One of the key principles of Green politics &emdash; in addition to decentralization of economic and political power, ecological wisdom, social responsibility (globally as well as locally), postpatriarchal values, and nonviolence &emdash; is "participatory democracy." The notion of selecting representatives is still maintained in such a system, but the grassroots level has more decision-making power and hence more active involvement than with the more hierarchical "representative democracy." Among the effects of stronger citizen participation &emdash; either within the two giant parties or within a few smaller, new parties, or both &emdash; would be a broader range of reflection on solutions to the problems we face as a society.
To some Americans the notion of local, state, and federal legislative bodies being comprised of representatives from small, innovative parties as well as the two giants would be a welcome change. (If we adopted the European threshold of requiring five percent of the total vote as the minimum for winning representation, there would not be a plethora of tiny, "lunatic fringe" parties in our legislative bodies. Even five percent is hard to win; John Anderson's ambitious campaign in 1980 won only seven percent of the total national vote.) Most Americans, however, distrust ideologies and would probably never support a constitutional amendment for proportional representation so that the political debate in our country could be expanded. Random selection would do that, in a way that is familiar because of its similarity to jury duty.
I suggest changing the proposal from purely random selection to drawing from a volunteer pool. After much ado it would amount to that anyway since it is impossible to conscript people to force them to move to Washington for three years. Many citizens would get out of it by citing the same kinds of extenuating circumstances that excuse one from jury duty. (Of course, the real reasons would not be stated publicly: husbands who are threatened by the thought of their wives being powerful figures for three years; wives who refuse to give up three years of their lives to play the role of "public wife of Mr. Congressman"; spouses of both sexes who refuse to uproot themselves and their children from their community in trade for the cynical, competitive ambiance of our nation's capital.)
Having a voluntary pool would eliminate the many Americans who simply do not care about politics, but would include all those wonderfully feisty and committed citizens who run the PTAs, the Cub Scout troops, the church groups, the ethnic clubs, the environmental protection efforts, and so forth. I admit that this method would lack the inherent balance of purely random selection, but the Federal Elections Commission, or whichever agency would handle the task, could issue periodic reports encouraging more citizens of various categories to register so that their percentage in the pool would match their percentage in the general population. (The Commission might have to announce, for example, that they needed more Hispanic housewives &emdash; and fewer lawyers.)
Americans would rightfully distrust the idea of totally inexperienced representatives making decisions for us at the national and international levels. (Most freshman representatives have some political experience behind them, even if it's only years of service as a political hack in their district.) Hence the second change I suggest is that federal representatives be selected from the national pool of former state senators and state representatives, who were chosen for those one-time, three-year terms from an open volunteer pool in their states. The question arises as to why selection for the U.S. Senate should not also be reformed in this way, as it has more power than the House and is plagued with the same problems of financing extremely costly campaigns, owing favors to monied interests, and functioning largely as a privileged, white men's club. I suppose Callenbach and Phillips's intention is to assuage fears concerning anything new by maintaining a large portion of the old system.
The additions I suggest are based on reforms proposed at the end of Gregg Easterbrook's article: limit legislators' outside income (no more $5000 and $10,000 "honoraria" for giving a talk to a group); ban lobbyists from the premises of Capitol Hill; require attendance in Washington for three quarters of the year (hectic flying back and forth almost every week for continual campaigning would no longer be necessary) and expect legislators to spend most of the summer quarter meeting with citizen groups in their areas. Easterbrook also documents the hugely inefficient tangle of overlapping committees and subcommittees that has evolved in the House and Senate since the seniority system was abandoned in 1975. Apparently, everyone in Congress decided to be chair of something. (Easterbrook calls it the "535-ring circus that is Congress.") Switching to the onetime, three-year terms suggested by Callenbach and Phillips would afford an opportunity to radically streamline the committee system without returning to the old system, which concentrated entrenched power in the hands of a few very senior legislators. A new seniority system could be adopted such that each committee (their total number would be combined and reduced) would be chaired by a third-year legislator who had served on that committee throughout her or his term.
Am I ready to advocate adopting the Callenbach-Phillips proposal, with my changes and additions, for the House of Representatives as soon as possible? Nope. There are too many unknowns. But the idea makes enough sense that I do think we should try random selection (from a pool of volunteers) for the lower house of state governments in as many states as are willing to go along with the experiment. The citizenry could observe the results and decide whether the new system should be expanded to the federal level, altered, or abandoned. If the new system were to be expanded to the Congressional level after the test period in several states, all states would be obliged to adopt it by a certain date so that the national pool of experienced, randomly selected legislators would be fed from the entire country.
I wish to thank several friends for discussions of the Callenbach-Phillips proposal and responses to my ideas. In particular, my ol' college chum Michael Koetting convinced me of the need for volunteer pools; I then played with combining that idea with the need for experience in our federal legislators and came up with the notion of a national pool of former state legislators, who had been randomly selected from volunteer pools. John Powell kindly delivered an eloquent argument for the need to reform selection of Senators as well as Representatives.
Hon. John Vasconcellos
John Vasconcellos, who has served in the California State Assembly for two decades, is now chairman of the Committee on Ways and Means.
"If you ask me, 'Why should not the people make their own laws?' I need only ask you, 'Why should the people not write their own plays?' They cannot. It is much easier to write a good play than to make good law. And there are not a hundred men in the world who can write a play good enough to stand the daily wear and tear as long as a law must." &emdash; Shaw
Shaw's comment may reflect the predictable bias of an elected politician after reading the reforms proposed by Callenbach and Phillips. After all, as a tenth-term California assemblyman and chairman of the influential Ways and Means Committee, who would expect me to embrace a political reform that would throw me out of office? Yet I cite Shaw in this instance with some regret.
I wish everyone could write a play; I wish everyone could create effective law. Obviously, for myriad reasons, such is not the case.
Reading A Citizen Legislature, I found myself pulled between the ideal of a full, literal democracy, where everyone is interested, partakes and contributes, and the reality of our republican form of government, where imperfect elected officials serve an often disinterested and suspicious electorate. But it is the tension between the ideal and the real that fuels innovation and improvement, whether in government, science or art, so I can honestly embrace many of the proposals in A Citizen Legislature even if I cannot push for their enactment.
The authors claim that resistance to their sortition solution comes from "an attachment to hierarchy and a lack of trust in the people themselves." Granted, there is truth here. I suspect many people would be loathe to abolish our republican form of government that has served them so well &emdash; some because the status quo suits them, others for lack of a better idea. I also think there would be a widespread reluctance to put government into the hands of an arbitrary collection of "the people," many of whom lack the necessary expertise, education and ability to perform the massive responsibility of governing.
Yet ironically, the authors' proposal itself constructs but a new hierarchy and does so on the basis of a cynical lack of trust in the people elected by the people.
I do not share the authors' presumptuous lack of trust in elected officials. Neither do I distrust the public. For twenty years I have based my public political career on my belief in the inherent goodness of the individual. That belief, however, does not necessarily translate into the confidence that because people are good they are suitably gifted to govern.
Even so, the Callenbach-Phillips proposal intrigues me because it echoes the themes of self-empowerment I have always preached. For example, my admiration for the liberation politics of Paolo Friere's Pedagogy of the Oppressed allows me to endorse the authors' earnest and creative thinking. But as the solution to our admittedly imperfect political system, I cannot support it.
The problematic question the authors' proposal raises is: do people generally know what is best for them? That question can be argued interminably. Regardless how you answer, however, you immediately face an equally troublesome quandary: assuming the need for, and the existence of, some centralized form of government, what could/would most people accomplish in working for three years in the bureaucratic maze of a mammoth institutional government?
I don't know, but I suspect very little. The bureaucrats and staff people who really understand the ins and outs of any political system don't leave every three years. They stay on for careers. It takes several years to learn the ropes and the issues before anyone can become a force in any government, just like in any job of import. Continuity, camaraderie and trust are built up over time, not upon the oath of office.
No one would argue that elected politicians are more trustworthy or diligent than many of their constituents. But again, I think it unfair and cynical to presume they are less.
I take pride in my office, my integrity and the job I do. And after ten terms in the California Legislature I can vouch for most of my colleagues. Yes, I've seen undue influence. I've seen irresponsible campaigns and poor job performance. But the rule rather than the exception is men and women sacrificing time, careers and financial gain to serve in government, all the while criticized and held in suspicion.
Most people serving as elected officials today are highly educated professional people with skills that would serve them well in the private sector. Let's not be too quick to write off the dedication and hard work that leads to victory in open elections. On the other hand, let's not write off challenging reforms, such as those offered by Callenbach and Phillips.
Without the luxury of space for detail, I can only opine that the authors' proposals are simplistic, unwieldy and unrealistic. Nonetheless, I think it wise to pay attention to their criticisms and I do. As T. Burke once said, "A disposition to preserve and an ability to improve, taken together, would be my standard of a statesman."
In the course of preparing this book, we have received essential support from many people, often in the form of impassioned objections to which, in the course of excited conversation, new solutions arose. Though the final form of the text represents solely the authors' own views, we are especially grateful to Greta Alexander, Walter T. Anderson, Benjamin Barber, Ellen Gnaizda, Robert Gnaizda, Allen Graubard, Tommy Hargadon, Lynn Hirshman, Nan Hohenstein, Paul Kaufman, Christine Leefeldt, Deanne Marquardt, Malcolm Margolin, Frances Peavey, Richard Register, Michael Rossman, and Lee Swenson. We also reiterate here our gratitude to the people who took the time to prepare their thoughtful printed responses to the proposal. No new political idea grows in isolation; its refinement, like its application, must inevitably be a social process.
This book was written on a Kaypro 10 with Wordstar, typeset in Palatino by Lexis Press of San Francisco and printed by Edwards Bros. in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The first printing of 2,000 copies cost $2,700.
The book is owned by a partnership with the two authors as the majority investors and four friends as additional supporters.
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