Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The "first X names in phonebook" approach to selecting Congresspeople

Here's a lunatic fringe idea: have far fewer elections. One problem we have is a political unwillingness to confront unpleasant realities, because the politicians who table solutions to these ideas see no political upside and vast political downside. For instance, any attempts to address Social Security and Medicare with anything but higher taxes will get demagogued to death. Higher taxes are slightly easier, but even these have little upside.

And as everyone knows, the only real answer is the sort of Painful Choices that elected politicians hate making, because they'll piss everyone off.

My idea here is based on how we select juries: have a much bigger Congress, so individual members aren't quite so powerful, and simply draft them the way we draft people to serve on juries. One approach would be something like this:

1. Have a single eight-year term.
2. People may opt-out of the Congressional draft.
3. 1/4 of Congress is drafted every two years.
4. For the first two years, a Member is a "learner" and may not always vote, although if there's a very close election, the learners can vote to break near-ties. My guess would be if a vote is within 1%, the learners vote.
5. I'm not a big demagogue when it comes to Congressional pay. We need the pay to be high enough so that people in all walks of life want to serve, and to make corruption expensive. If pay is too low, nobody with a life will want to serve.
6. There needs to be enough Congresspeople so their votes represent a statistically interesting cross-section of the American population.

Since I'm not completely opposed to elections - nor to the idea that "elites" have something useful to contribute - I'd keep a bicameral legislature with a Senate either directly elected or appointed by State legislatures**.

If we did the above, Congress would once again be able to claim to be "the people's House".

** See later "crazy ideas" about empowering States

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