Saturday, September 29, 2018

Representation II: The Reckoning

Of late, there has been a great deal of attention paid to the U.S. Senate.  I would like to take a moment to talk about the U.S. House of Representatives.

When the Constitution was ratified, Article One, Section Two stated (and continues to state) that “the Number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty Thousand.”

Let’s stay with that figure for a moment, understanding that it represents the high-water mark for representation. Applying the same formula in 2017, with a United States population of 325.7 million, we would have a lower federal legislative body consisting of 10,856 souls.  Elephantine?  Perhaps.  But currently, courtesy of the Reapportionment Act of 1929, we are capped at 435 House members.  For a Republic as large as ours, that ceiling is too low; the fact that that number of seats has remained unchanged since Herbert Hoover was President and Babe Ruth patrolled the Yankees outfield is nothing less than scandalous.

Far too much political power in our country is exercised by far too few.  This problem is exacerbated by limiting the number of Representatives that we can send to Congress.  We are a growing nation.  Individual house districts are jam-packed with constituents.  Following the 2010 census, the average U.S. Congressional district was comprised of 710,767 individuals.  That was 8 years ago.  How can Ken or Kendra Average ensure that their voice is heard by their Representative with so many competing voices (people and organizations, both within and outside of their district)?  What kind of access do they have?  With so many constituents and interests, how can most Members of Congress truly keep up with all corners of their district? (hint: staff)  

When you bear in mind that many districts are geographically sprawling and/or heavily gerrymandered, it is considerably more difficult to maintain a government that is “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”  The sheer size of these districts often necessitates campaigns that feature air wars (television commercials, most notably) since candidates can only knock on so many doors.  This helps drive up campaign costs, which makes many candidates for the House heavily reliant on well-heeled interests to fill up their coffers.  Again, should it need repeating, the nexus of political and economic clout is not healthy in a democracy.

Surely we can take steps to make the House of Representatives more representative of the electorate they are supposed to serve.  Smaller districts that promote a closer connection between the public and their federal elected officials would help. For example, in the United Kingdom, the House of Commons consists of 650 Members of Parliament (representing a population of 65.64 million in 2016).  That works out to a more manageable 100,984 residents per parliamentary constituency.  In terms of total area, there are 11 states that are larger than all of the U.K.  Adding another 215 U.S. Representatives to reach 650 in that house is well within our nation’s capacity.  The additions could even be phased in over time.  We have seen notable jumps in the number of U.S. Representatives before: a 24 seat increase in 1893 (from 1891), a 29 seat increase in 1901 (from 1893), and a 44 seat increase in 1913 (from 1911).

Yes, I know these structural considerations aren’t digital page-turners, yet they go to the heart of who we elect to represent us and how self-government can be improved.  We are long over-due for an updated Reapportionment Act that disaggregates political power, taking some away from the few so the many can have a greater say in public policy decision-making.

In solidarity.

Friday, September 28, 2018

A Story About Change

It was the Spring of 1996. Mary J. Blige was informing us that no, she was in fact “not gon’ cry” while La Bouche was discussing the expectations surrounding the scenario where one might “be my lover, wanna be my lover.”  The decade was like that.

I was 24 years old and had just wrapped up four years as the Director of Research at a Michigan-based market research firm that specialized in political polling.  I was in the job market, which entailed printing out and mailing hard copies of resumes and cover letters…and neither postage nor the “good paper” were cheap.  It also involved watching many Columbo reruns (Robert Culp was the best villain, end of debate).

This was not that long after I thought I might be DC-bound.  In the summer of 1994, I worked for a U.S. Senate candidate that was up 18 points three weeks out until primary day.  It looked like a favorable year for the candidates of that particular party, and the likely General Election opponents didn’t appear to be electoral Titans.  I know there were a couple of young operatives associated with that campaign who were already thinking about housing options inside the Beltway and what role they might play working for a freshly minted Senator.   Then the Killer Ad hit…cancel the movers.  Side note:  the winner of that primary went on to become a Senator, and in doing so, he helped Ann Coulter along in her fetid rise to “prominence.” But I digress.

It is amazing how quiet the phone becomes on the day after Election Day, when your candidate loses.  There is a stillness that is unique to such days, which are usually spent engaged in mundane and solitary activities such as laundry, vacuuming, or checking to make sure your phone isn’t dead (it’s not).  And, of course, there is the List of Recriminations to finish and share with your similarly embittered, recently former colleagues.  That is a critical part of the healing process and cannot not be put off, for any reason.  

So after about two months with no job offers, I remember sitting on the couch one day in my small apartment, still in student housing, intensely frustrated and deeply saddened.  Had I hit my high-water mark in what I perceived to be my life’s calling?  Was politics through with me? What am I supposed to do now?     

Sure enough, within days of Peak Sulk, a congressional campaign responded to my letter of inquiry concerning a possible job.  They were looking for a “political director/press secretary.”  The gig came with no benefits, $2,000 a month, a long daily commute, and decidedly not spectacular odds of winning. I, of course, jumped at the opportunity. About a week later, I was driving from East Lansing to Waterford in an ’87 Mercury Lynx to work in a low-slung pink building on Dixie Highway (which, apparently, used to house an apparel boutique) that served as the Campaign HQ. 

While the campaign was ultimately unsuccessful, I was not there for the end.  The principal of a DC polling firm (with whom I met the previous year) contacted me in July, right before the Primary, and asked if I would like to join their team as a Research Analyst.  This was the big call-up, from AAA to the major leagues.  Without hesitation, I said “yes,” and dialed up the nearest U-Haul shortly thereafter.  

Twenty-two years later, having changed jobs a few times since, having gone through a divorce and getting re-married, having moved a couple of times, having switched parties, having opened up my own consultancy, having weathered the Great Recession and other industry upheavals, having lost some family members and having grown apart from some old friends, I am still here.      

The building in which I spent many hours of labor, toiling for the aforementioned Michigan research company, was knocked down last year. The congressional candidate passed in 2014.  The apartment in which I fretted about my prospects is now slated for demolition as that student housing complex, with its charmingly boxy architecture, is considered “obsolete.”   

So where am I going with all of this, besides harping on the theme of impermanence?  Well I suppose it is precisely about that.  Bad times pass, as do good. To quote Yeats, “things fall apart; the centre cannot hold.”  Yet the center also comes together, and the “anarchy” that “is loosed upon the world” can also be contained and rechanneled into constructive energy.

The future, as is its wont, remains cloaked with uncertainty. We do what we can, with the time given us, hopeful that tomorrow will somehow be an improvement upon today.

I know no one wants to hear dubious words of wisdom from a middle-aged white dude that comes from a blue-collar (yet unquestionably still privileged) background.  Given the events in the news, and what they portend for the future of this nation, this, as a writer, is the best I can muster.  To return to Yeats, we seem to live in times where “the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”

This must change, and soon.  For the moment, comrades, I have nothing else to say.

In solidarity.


It was Senator Roman Hruska, speaking in support of Judge Harrold Carswell’s (eventually failed) nomination to the Supreme Court by Richard Nixon who infamously stated:

“Even if he (Carswell) were mediocre, there are a lot of mediocre judges and people and lawyers.  They are entitled to a little representation, aren’t they, and a little chance?  We can’t have all Brandeises, Frankfurters and Cardozos.”

We, of course, have had mediocre Senators before (See: Hruska, R.) as well as now (fill in the blank). 

I simply don’t believe that alleged rapists need representation on the U.S. Supreme Court.  That is why his nomination should be withdrawn or voted down by the United States Senate (reminder: the U.S. Senate is supposedly the “world’s greatest deliberative body”).  Genuine deliberation should occur and, if you believe Dr. Christine Blasey Ford (as this author does), then there is no way Kavanaugh should sit on any bench, much less the “highest court in the land.”

We already have to endure an alleged rapist in the White House.  Hopefully, better representation in the next Congress can remedy that situation.  And if Kavanaugh somehow manages to be confirmed by this Congress, he should also be impeached by the next one.

In solidarity.