[Publisher’s Note: As part of an ongoing effort to bring original, thoughtful commentary to you here at the FlashReport, we are pleased to present this column from John Cox.]
California is facing an uncertain future – and it’s not an earthquake, despite a current blockbuster movie. There’s a water crisis, an education system declared woeful by a state judge and soaring costs on all levels – water, utilities, energy, housing and taxes. These could all be eclipsed by the huge elephant in the room – unfunded pensions and health care for state and local government employees that could be $1 trillion or more.
What are our public officials doing? As was recently reported, there are no fewer than a dozen proposals in the legislature to increase taxes AND spending, despite the massive underfunding of pensions and health care. The Governor crows about a California ‘comeback’ but he almost completely ignores the trillion dollar bomb expected to hit over the next 20 years. This government employee pensions and healthcare bomb only gets worse, as life expectancies expand and investments underperform the rosy scenarios built into their projections.
Take heart, California, there is change coming and it’s not the San Andreas splitting apart. It will be a political earthquake and it’s called the Neighborhood Legislature (NL). It will replace the dysfunctional and practically corrupt (if not actually corrupt in some cases) California legislature. We just received Title and Summary and we have built a professional plus volunteer organization that will soon be circulating through the neighborhood precincts of California to collect signatures and build support for this groundbreaking proposal.
Why is this such a political earthquake? Because it holds real promise that it will return power to actual representatives of the people, citizen legislators, who will be able to explore and implement the important reforms unimpeded by the allure and/or sting from special interest money spent to protect the status quo. These citizen legislators will replace the professional fundraisers and special interest representatives we currently endure.
As a result of population growth, the electoral structure of California’s legislature is ideal for special interest domination. The sheer size of the districts makes campaign funding and massive campaign operations all encompassing and dominant. That size also turns election campaigns into impersonal media efforts that have effectively turned off voters and choked off voter participation and confidence.
The NL changes this by chopping the current gargantuan districts into about 100 tiny ones. After representatives from these tiny districts are elected, they caucus and send one of their number to Sacramento. Thus, the same number, 120 (40 Senators and 80 Assemblymen) go to Sacramento to hold hearings and pass legislation. The Neighborhood Reps get a ratification vote for accountability.
The key is that in tiny districts, campaigns will be about issues, policy and the character of the candidate – not how much money they raise. Special interest groups won’t be able to win with attacks using independent expenditures. They can try – but in tiny districts, a candidate can effectively respond by going literally door to door, making the case directly to his or her constituents.
We realize this idea is going to disrupt the status quo. Its defenders will muster their resources to fight it. That’s why we are going into the neighborhoods, to build support door to door, person to person. The political class wants to protect its fundraising operation because it makes them a lot of money and secures their power.
California has huge promise – it can be the Golden State again if it can overcome its political dysfunction and leadership void. The Neighborhood Legislature is the key ingredient – an innovative disruptive restructuring worthy of the most innovative state in the U.S. The state that gave the world the microchip, personal computer, electric car and cloud computing will also give the world a new electoral structure that will launch California into a sustainable position for the 21st Century and beyond.
John Cox is Chairman of the Neighborhood Legislature.