Call me crazy, but hear me out. What yesterday’s government shutdown has revealed to me is that we need MORE representatives in Congress. Yes I know, that would mean more Washington D.C. “fat cats” collecting paychecks while 800,000 federal workers get furloughed. But it would also mean a few things that could fix the gridlock in D.C.
Congress voted to cap the number of Representatives in the House at 435 in 1911. The prior year Census of 1910 counted the U.S. population at 92,228,496. Therefore, in 1911 a member of the House of Representatives (HOR), the branch of Congress that was created to represent the number of residents in each state, had 212,020 constituents in his/her district. Fast forward to 2013, there are still only 435 seats in the HOR, yet the 2010 Census pinned the U.S. population at 308,745,538 citizens across our 50 states. This means that today’s Representative of the people in Congress has 709,760 constituents in his/her district.
From 1789 to 1911 the House of Representatives grew with the population of the country. From 1911 to 2013 the population has grown by 334% while the size of Congress has remained stagnant at 435.
As the number of constituents in a Congressional district has more than tripled, a crowding-out effect has begun to silence the voice of the individual and with larger numbers of constituents to represent, the price of running a campaign skyrocketed. Politicians must now reach out to 3 times the number of people, and while television makes it easier to reach mass audiences, it also drives up the cost of running in an election. As a constituent the only way to amplify your voice in the crowded room is to help fund the election campaign. Donations buy seats in the room and photo opportunities where your voice gets heard. The more money you donate the louder your voice and the more important your issues become. This cycle of money to feed the political machine is directly related to the stagnant pool of Congressional seats. Your Representative is no longer the voice of the people, but is the voice of the money in his/her district.
Now imagine the result of dividing your Congressional district by 3.34 and returning the number of constituents to the 1911 level of 212,020 citizens per Congressperson. The average winner of a Congressional race in 2012 raised $1.7 million, divide that by 3.34 and it would only cost $509,000 to win a seat in the House. At that rate one would not have to be a millionaire to run for Congress, a politician would only need to convince 1020 people to pledge $500 or 5000 people to contribute $100 in order to win a campaign. My $50 contribution to a candidate carries much more weight in a race that cost $509,000 and my voice is not being drowned out by wealthy donors. By increasing the number of Representatives you will have taken the big money corruption out of the political races, amplified the voices of the people within the district, and made running for office accessible to more people. Win-Win-Win.
May I also suggest that once the political process is open to more people, because it is no longer cost prohibitive, you will begin to see more and more “3rd party” candidates winning seats in the House. Once the balance of power shifts away from an either or, us vs them dialogue, we will once again see the return of civility and compromise to the United States Congress. No one party will have enough power to hold the government hostage, all members will have to work together to find solutions.
Some will scoff at the idea and argue that there is no way that a 1453 member House of Representatives could ever get anything accomplished. However there are over 1410 members of the British Parliament and they seem to be quite capable of governing the country. The French Parliament has 925 members representing 70,000 citizens each; one tenth the number of constituents of our House members. Both the French and British systems have multiple political parties and neither of their governments is dominated by a two-party system.
So while I hate to argue with the Tea-Party, I find it obvious that what our country needs is MORE government. More Representation in the House will lead to less money in politics, better representation of the will of the people and more opportunity for 3rd party candidates.