Monday, April 19, 2010

Senatorial Revisions

I have given some more thought to the question of the Senate and figure that as long as we are overhauling the legislature we should take a hard look at what we want a Senate to accomplish and how best to select Senators to achieve those ends. Unless our goal is to have an utterly corrupt body primarily beholden to moneyed interests, we can agree that direct election of Senators is preposterous.

It may be argued, by those who have not given it much thought, that selecting Senators by means other than selecting among candidates robs citizens of real representation. This is far from the truth. Half of eligible voters wisely decline to vote in most elections. Are they represented by the person whom the fools who voted selected? If your candidate loses, are you represented by the guy you hated? Are the two choices put up by the political parties a genuine exercise of choice? And for every informed voter, there are a thousand uninformed and misinformed sheep to drown out their voices with their imbecilic bleating. No, electing Senators directly is wrong for America.

What is the point really of a less representative upper house? Is it a vestige of the House of Lords designed to safeguard the interests of the propertied classes from the rapacity of the mob? No, that was buit into the system in other ways by limiting the franchise to propertied white men. Is it to safeguard regional interests? Originally, the idea was to assure small states of a voice when the larger states overwhelmed them in population and House seats. That was a political compromise that made some sense back in the 1780s when a constitution had to be sold, but it may no longer serve in the present context in which states are more or less political subdivisions with a few vestiges of sovereignty.

Perhaps there are other regional and minority interests that we reckon should be protected from majoritarian tyranny. And if there are such interests, such as rural concerns in an overwhelmingly urban and suburban country, we should determine how much of a power imbalance to adopt to achieve our goals. In the present system, sparsely populated states in Flyoverstan control far too much of the Senate in comparison to populous coastal states and do nothing to serve regional interests. Rather, they provide convenient venues for moneyed interests to invest in Senate campaigns and buy influence relatively cheaply. A Wyoming Senate candidate needs to buy many fewer votes than a candidate in California or New York. This imbalance results in the kind of GOP Senate caucus that we suffer from now and is bad for America.

I propose that we slant things somewhat but not so crazily to rural interests by consolidating a number of sparsely populated, rural states and rural areas of nearby urban states into a number of Senate Districts which is equal to the number of Senators that would be chosen on a proportional basis plus a premium of seats to be determined by how much we really care about this social divide.

Senators would then be chosen by lottery from a pool of eligible individuals (30 plus years old, domiciled in district, no felony convictions, no receipt of government funds for ten years except legislative pay) who have previously served in the House of Representatives or the Senate. The experience requirement would help to make the Senate a more deliberative body. Terms would be for 12 years. I estimate that our consolidation program would result in 30 Senate Districts, and since we have already increased numbers in the House I propose that each District select three Senators for a total of 120 seats.

I would still prohibit the Senate from proposing legislation or offering amendments and would require it to act promptly on affirmations and ratifications.

A Senate chosen by lot would look like America and would be likely to work for America rather than for itself.

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