While many Americans believe their elected representatives in Washington are nothing more than a bunch of pickpocketing shysters intoxicated by the influence of powerful lobbyists, the solution – as radical as it might sound – might just be to put more people in office.
I propose we amend the Constitution to add even more members to Congress – and I mean dramatically more.
When our founding fathers built the country on a representative form of government, they intended the masses to have a democratic voice. They sought to make one government body controlled by the majority of voters; hence, the House of Representatives, the people's voice in government.
The sole purpose for this branch of Congress was to ensure that the majority of the voting populace had a say in government actions. That's why House members have the shortest term in office, at two years.
While there's no doubt the framers of the Constitution were brilliant planners, they did not foresee the eventual size and scope of America, especially in terms of population growth. In a way, the population explosion has become the Achilles heel of our republic.
The Encyclopedia of World History states "Following the establishment of the new constitutional order, the U.S. population increased from 3.9 million in 1790 to 9.6 million in 1820. The Louisiana Purchase in 1803 added the nearly 2 million people who occupied the nine new states and three territories west of the Appalachian Mountains. The nation's urban population increased from less than 550,000 in 1820 to 1.8 million in 1840. By 1870, when the U.S. population reached nearly 40 million, about 25 percent of the total lived in cities, as the urban population grew more rapidly than the population as a whole."
When founding fathers originally assigned 435 members for the House, they were delegating one member for roughly every 8,900 people. Of this amount, only 900-1,000 could actually vote. Keep in mind, only land-owning men over 21 had that right – not women, not children, not minorities. No wonder we read about Davy Crockett walking his district to press the flesh with his electorate. He could easily meet every man that voted for him, a far cry from today where the average congressman meets only a small fraction of constituents.
Today, a House member may represent a half-million or more citizens in his district, with another 150,000 eligible to vote. With such a ratio, do you think your congressperson really cares one whit about your personal opinions? If members do their job correctly, they've already neutralized your vote through gerrymandering.
Politicians quickly learn it's not their constituents they need to worry about, but rather, money. And to get that cash, they cozy up to the people and corporations that have it. The result? Taxation without representation for the vast majority of voters! The same issue that helped spark the American Revolution.
If a constitutional amendment were passed to put the House back to the same representation level as in 1789 (one House member per 1,000 voters), we'd actually need 202,000 members. I'm not suggesting we adopt that large a figure, but if we took the population ratio of 1789 – 8,900 per district – we would still need 20,000 House members. Can you start to see how much more important a vote was to Davy Crockett than one is today?
My compromise is that we set up a new Congress based on the idea that a congressperson has districts of only 50,000 registered voters (that would get the voter registration drives up) and that the number of House members are not limited. The 2000 census indicates the U.S. has 130 million registered voters and another 73 million more adults not registered.
To make the math easier, let's assume that we would have 150 million registered voters after the new law goes into effect. That would equate to about 3,000 representatives. Now before you laugh, remember we've had at times ten times that number of people in the Pentagon alone. These 3,000 could meet in a new building, pass laws, do the business of government and then send their bills to the Senate.
It sounds simplistic, but it would put government back into the hands of the common man. Corporations cannot buy 3,000 votes. Citizens would personally know their congressman again, like in olden times. Neighborhood leaders would find themselves elected to Congress. Local issues would have weight again in Washington, and the special-interest groups would be relegated to spending their time and money on senators and the president.
The new system has an added bonus when it comes to presidential elections.
The Electoral College would increase by almost 2,600 voters where suburbs and rural areas would have a greater weight in elections than they do today. You'd find White House wannabes meeting more voters in person. Look at the map of the 2000 presidential contest. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that George W. Bush carried the majority of the land mass of America. Granted, large cities would acquire many more House members, but so would the large suburbs that surround the cities.
Finally, our forefathers never envisioned full-time lobbying, not to mention a full-time Congress.
Lobbyists have had a larger influence on our government than any of the framers ever envisioned. On both the far right and the far left, a few powerful groups have held the vast majority of Americans in bondage. It's especially true in the Senate, where large unpopulated states have far more representation than larger states, and lobbyists have an easier time getting their agendas made into laws. A stronger House would better control a much too-powerful Senate.
So, by shifting the balance of power back to the voters, we'd return our country back to what our founding fathers initially envisioned: a land of free persons who can control their destiny through the ballot box and not the rifle.
Bob Barney is a resident of Chesapeake, Va., and is co-founder of RaceRap.com, an auto-racing messageboard, as well as ThePlainTruth.com a news and messageboard.