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My Gonzo Idea for Congressional Reform

10.16.13 | 1 Comment

Seal_of_the_United_States_House_of_Representatives.svgDid you know that when the United States was founded the state legislatures elected Senators all the way up until 1913 with the 17th Amendment’s ratification? The change was made in the wake of at least three scandals involving candidates who bribed their way into being elected by their respective state legislatures. I mention this both as a matter of historical interest and as a precedent for the changing the selection process for congressional members.

Recent history suggests that House of Representatives is broken. Thanks to the two-party system, Congress hasn’t passed an annual budget since 2009. The last Democrats vilified W. Bush when he was in office and the Republicans are doing the same with Obama. Both sides spend more effort sabotaging the other party than working to improve the lives of Americans and there is absolutely no indication that they will be more cooperative in the future.

It’s time for a change. Wouldn’t it be great if:

  • We could remove (or at least minimize) political parties from the equation?
  • We could remove the influence of campaign contributions?
  • We could improve the participation of working-class Americans who actually feel the impact of their legislation and reduce the number of career politicians?

If only there was some other method in place for selecting Americans for temporary service. Some way to appoint a truly representative swath of citizenry. Some way to be governed by our peers. Oh wait, there is.

I DO HEREBY PROPOSE eliminating elections for the House of Representatives and replacing them with direct appointment using a variation on jury selection. Eligible citizens are to be randomly selected for service to the House for two years. During their terms no less than three months will be spent shadowing the current representative for their district and the last three months will be spent training their replacement.

As with jury selection, citizens identified for service may decline for reasons such as being a student, being the sole owner of a business, being the caretaker of children or elderly, medical reasons, financial hardship, and so on. Also as with jury service, citizens may be ineligible for reasons such as (but not limited to) felony convictions or ongoing court cases for the same, significant mental impairment, or lack of a high school diploma or GED.

Also, just as we recognize both the necessity of jury service and the burden it places on citizens yanked from their normal lives, special accommodations will be made for citizens called to serve for two years away from their homes. First, all representatives will be given free housing in the form of a 2 or 3 bedroom furnished apartment in a government-owned apartment complex and monthly travel vouchers to visit loved ones at home. Next, for the two years of their service they will earn maximum retirement benefits deposited in a Roth IRA and annual salaries of $120,000 ($54,000 less than what representatives make today) unless the salary is less than their reported pay on their last federal tax return, in which case the reported amount is matched. At the end of a representative’s service their former employers are required to re-hire the former employee in a similar or better role at similar or higher pay.

In the above scenario obviously the representatives would rely heavily on their congressional staff. They would also have to work with the career politicians in the Senate, who would continue to be selected by direct election as they are today. Would this new system create its own problems and wrinkles? Absolutely. Just ask yourself would it be any worse than the dysfunctional system we have today.

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1 Comment

Comment by eriko
2013-10-17 12:12:30

For fuller description of this and some of it's pitfalls read A Citizen Legislature by Ernest Callenbach
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Ernest Callenbach (April 3, 1929 – April 16, 2012) was an American author, film critic, editor, and simple living adherent.[1]

A Citizen Legislature
ERNEST CALLENBACH and MICHAEL PHILLIPS http://www.well.com/~mp/citleg.html

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