Monday, November 18, 2013

From Career Politicians To A Citizen Legislature For The Golden State

Clairemont is a community where friends and neighbors know and trust each other, understand local issues and priorities and can discuss political issues when they meet at the supermarket, the coffee shop, or occasional town hall meetings.

John Cox
The elected representatives who are making decisions for us, on the other hand, are distant, detached and out-of-touch with local issues. Currently, there are 80 members of the State Assembly and 40 members of the State Senate, meaning that they each represent (supposedly) hundreds of thousands of citizens. Because their districts are so big, their election campaigns are expensive affairs, waged on TV and radio. To raise the money for these campaigns, they turn to special interests, whose agenda they must adhere to once they are elected. The special interests’ agenda and the local community agenda are seldom aligned.

Now, a new idea is taking shape to make a major change in the structure of the state legislature. A ballot proposition called the Neighborhood Legislature would take the 120 electoral districts in California and divide them by 100. This would create much smaller “neighborhood districts” in which elected politicians would represent between 5,000 to 10,000 people per district.

What does this mean? Constituents would have more accessibility to their representatives. Career politicians and funding from special interest groups would be replaced with door-to-door campaigning and social media. Legislative decisions would be responsive to local knowledge and local priorities.

“This reform is potentially transformative; it is the greatest transfer of power peacefully in the history of this country," said John Cox, Chair of Rescue California Educational Foundation, “This new structure transfers power from the funders of campaigns – the ‘special interests’ – who tailor legislation to their needs but are leading California on a downward trajectory – to the people, where it belongs.”

If you take a look at this radical idea, it's really not new. It's been done before in New Hampshire where the population of the state legislature is smaller and constituents have better access to their representatives.

Cox and his team of county coordinators have built a grass roots organization in San Diego, Orange, Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernardino, Sacramento, and Marin counties. They're engaging with local citizens to educate them about the Neighborhood Legislature.

“This initiative will be passed in the same way it is going to operate – in the neighborhoods,” said Cox, “We are educating people all across the state on the merits of this idea and they are signing up to educate and inform their neighborhoods, which is building up our support.”

In fact, the idea has been praised by some big name non-partisan groups. California Common Cause and the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC have partnered with Rescue California Education Foundation, the sponsor of the Neighborhood Legislature Reform Act, to hold a series of symposia up and down the Golden State to discuss the idea. Symposia have been held in Sacramento, Los Angeles, and Berkeley with plans for San Luis Obispo and San Diego.

Once the education process is concluded, the initiative will be likely be filed in November 2013. The Neighborhood Legislature team and their supporters will walk precincts and go door-to-door next January to collect signatures. Once enough signatures are qualified by California Secretary of State, then the initiative would appear on the ballot in the 2014 general election.

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