Here is an idea that was suggested to me on the campaign trail — and the more I think about it, the more it makes sense. See if it does to you.
Article I Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution specifies that each member of the House of Representatives must represent a minimum of 30,000 people, but it sets no maximum. Because there were 105 members of the House in 1790, when our country had a population of about 3.9 million people, that meant that, when our government began, each member of the House represented an average of about 37,140 people.
Over the years the numbers of the members of the House increased with the population until 1913, when it hit 435, where it remains. But since the population of the United States has grown to about 319 million, each member of the House now represents an average of more than 730,000 people.
There is no constitutional magic in the number 435. As best I can discover, we have stayed there simply because it was determined by the number of desks that would reasonably fit into the House chamber.
So the idea is this: What if we went back to the original idea of having one member of the House for every 35,000 to 40,000 people?
Of course, simple math shows us that this would result in something like 8,500 members of the House of Representatives and that would be unworkable.
But not really. Today, using the Internet, there is no good reason why the members of the House simply could not stay home. The Internet would allow them easily to participate in debates, vote, hold special public and private meetings, caucus and meet with each other either one-on-one or in groups, and do whatever else they need to do from their home office.
Why not? Yes, this would mean that representatives would not be meeting each other in person. That is a drawback, but just think of the enormous benefits.
The most obvious benefit is that these members would be much more closely connected to their constituents, which would directly yield more local representation. In addition, if these public hearings and votes were being broadcast, they would soon be available to the general public, and this would benefit good government. Furthermore, because the members would not be traveling so much, they actually could hold another job, which would also keep the members more closely tied to reality.
Another major benefit is that this new approach would render it almost impossible for lobbyists to corral and influence that many members, because it wouldn't be worth the cost to attempt to lobby thousands of House members all around the country! And if they tried, those attempts would be much more conspicuous.
Furthermore, if a member was serving a smaller area with only about 37,000 people, the increasingly obscene costs of running for and winning elective office would be substantially reduced. This would not only allow people of more limited means to compete, but it would result in lesser-known parties being able to elect some of their candidates to the House. And this would reinvigorate the entire process of government!
But what about the cost of having and paying for 8,500 members of the House of Representatives? Well, because the members would have a second job, their salaries could and should be reduced, and there would also be no need for a retirement program or other benefits. In addition, office and travel expenses would be cut significantly.
Having so many House members could foreseeably result in some very organized members accumulating a great amount of power and thus controlling the votes of other members. That is a risk but, to a large degree, we already have that problem now. And at least it should result in fewer bills becoming law — we already have too many laws.
Finally, the good news is that there would not be a need for a constitutional amendment for this new system to be implemented. But the bad news is that it would need a vote of Congress. And that could be a big problem.
Because the power and even prestige of today's members of the House of Representatives would be diminished, as well as their salaries and benefits, it would be hard to persuade them to vote for this proposal.
So what is the answer? First, ponder this idea, as I have, and decide what you think about it. If you are like me, I think the idea will grow on you. Then if you get as excited as I have become about it, forward this suggestion to your circle of friends and acquaintances.
Yes, many members of the House would be against the idea for personal reasons, but it is our government, and we the people have every right to change our government to be more representative of our interests.
JAMES P. GRAY is a retired Orange County Superior Court judge. He lives in Newport Beach. He can be contacted at JimPGray@sbcglobal.net.