Proposal would vastly expand Legislature

I thought I’d seen every possible suggestion for breaking California’s legislative logjam and making lawmakers more beholden to the people, from top-two primaries to redistricting to docking lawmakers’ pay to a part-time Legislature.

But this is a new one on me: Increasing the Legislature’s size almost a hundred-fold.

Secretary of State Debra Bowen today announced that the proponent of just such a plan can start circulating petitions for his proposed ballot measure. Here’s the Attorney General’s official title and summary:

LEGISLATURE EXPANSION. LEGISLATIVE PROCESS. INITIATIVE CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT. Increases size of Legislature almost 100-fold by dividing current Assembly and Senate districts into neighborhood districts such that each Assemblymember represents about 5,000 persons and each Senator represents about 10,000 persons. Provides for neighborhood district representatives to elect working committees the size of the current Assembly and Senate, 80 Assemblymembers and 40 Senators. Gives working committees the legislative power generally, and sole power to amend bills, but requires approval by appropriate vote of the full membership in each house for passage of any non-urgency bill. Reduces legislators’ pay and expenditures. Summary of estimate by Legislative Analyst and Director of Finance of fiscal impact on state and local government: Decreased state spending on the Legislature of over $180 million annually. Increased county election costs, potentially in the range of tens of millions of dollars initially and lower amounts annually thereafter. (11-0067.)

Proponent John Cox has until June 1 to collect valid signatures from at least 807,615 registered California voters in order to qualify the measure for November’s ballot.

Here’s a clip of Cox explaining his idea:

This is the same John Cox who was an under-the-radar Republican presidential candidate in 2006-07, with a long history in Chicago law, real estate and conservative rhetoric; he’s now living in Rancho Santa Fe, and last month showed up on Newt Gingrich’s California finance leadership team.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • DanvilleDemocrat

    I’d vote for this, though it’ll never pass and, as a personal rule, I never put my signature on these petitions to put initiatives/referenda on the ballot. That said, this goes a little too far. It’d make some sense to make the assembly and state senate districts just a little smaller — e.g., an assembly of 100 instead of 80, a state senate of 50 instead of 40.

  • Elwood

    Actually, what makes the most sense is to do away with the legislature all together.

    One would be hard pressed to find a collection of 120 more venal corrupt idiots.

    Barring that, a part time legislature which meets for a month every two years would be a vast improvement. Unpaid of course, with moderate compensation for meals, lodging and travel.

  • John W

    “… a part-time legislature which meets for a month every two years…”

    Presumably for the purpose of rubber-stamping the legislation written for them by lobbyists and staff during the periods between legislative sessions.

  • Elwood

    @ #3

    Surely, John W, you won’t argue that our current leg. is anything but an embarrassment and a laughing stock.

    Who do you think writes the hundreds of pieces of insanity coming out of the leg. now?

    A good case can be made that the majority of the leg. is functionally illiterate.

  • John W

    Re: #4

    Well, you know what they say about laughter being the best medicine.

    It’s true that the lobbyist brigade writes everthing now — literally. You can blame term limits for part of that. That’s what you get when committee chairmanships and legislative leadership posts are filled by freshman and sophomore legislators.

    I don’t know about the “functionally illiterate” part. But definitely forgetful. One forgets she stuffed her bag full of expensive clothing before leaving the store. Another forgets he had his loaded gun and extra clip of bullets in his carry-on at the airport.

  • Elwood

    Let me phrase that another way:

    Because a majority of the leg. don’t have the skills to manage a meat market, they would be unable to write a bill for a leg of lamb.

  • Truthclubber

    Let me see if I have the math right.

    A State Assembly of 8,000 people, and a State Senate of 4,000 people.

    I want what he’s (the proponent) smokin’ — it’s gooooooooooooood $#i+!

    The logistics alone — where would you hold votes, the Arco Arena? All in favor, do the wave “right”! All opposed, do the wave “left”!

  • RR, Senile Columnist

    Shucks, let’s give every registered voter a shot at sitting in Sacramento. No election per se, just a summons and a short quiz like jury duty.

  • CarterL

    Seems like a great way to increase Sacramento’s population and stimulate the local economy.

    I watched the video and the proposal still doesn’t sound like it’d actually help anything. More reps from more districts would make people beholden to smaller, and more partisan groups. It’d make it harder to do anything.

    Smaller districts can be helpful, but this sounds like it is just too many cooks in the kitchen.

  • The proposal is meant to get campaign money – legalized bribery – out of the legislative electoral process.

    It doesn’t result in more ‘cooks’. Each legislative district – 40 Senate districts and 80 Assembly districts – are carved up into about 100 ‘Neighborhood Districts’ which elect a ‘Neighborhood Representative’. These 100 then elect one of their number to go to Sacramento as part of a ‘Working Committee’ that takes the place of the current legislature.

    Thus, there are still 40 Neighborhood Senators and 80 Neighborhood Assemblymembers in Sacramento.

    The big difference is that they get there by: first, winning a tiny district election and second, winning a majority of the votes of 99 other Neighborhood Representatives in their large district.

    The Neighborhood Reps make $1000 a year. They don’t meet but they do get an up and down vote on all legislation – something that they can do over the Internet. They don’t have to meet anywhere.

    The Working Committee members make $30,000 a year – part time pay. They don’t have to be full time because they don’t have to raise any money and won’t have to do a lot of campaigning. Today’s legislature is full time because they spend so much of their time raising money – they are essentially professional fundraisers right now.

    The initiative also saves almost $200 million because staffs are cut by 75%. Someone who represents only 5-10,000 people doesn’t need a big staff.

    All in all, this proposal takes back the legislature from the funders and the professional fundraisers who get told what to do by the funders.

    Therefore, no money is needed to run a campaign for the legislature.

    No money necessary means no control by unions, trial lawyers, big business, environmental groups, etc – the people and organizations that now control Sacramento and dictate what happens, i.e., bankrupting the state.