Steve G.

Posts Tagged ‘legislative’

Why Redistricting is the Most Important Issue for Texas in the 2010 Elections

In Activism, Congress, Corruption, Democracy, Democrats, Fraud, Green Party, History, Libertarian, Libertarian Party-US, Libertarian Politics, Local Politics, Politics, Republican, US Government on January 20, 2010 at 9:31 am

What good does it do a man to have the vote if he has only one person that he can vote for?

All political power is inherent in the people and all free governments are founded on their authority, and instituted for their benefit. The faith of the people of Texas stands pledged to the preservation of a republican form of government, and, subject to this limitation only, they have at all times the inalienable right to alter, reform or abolish their government in such manner as they may think expedient.
Article III, Section 2 of the Constitution of the State of Texas

In 2011, the next Texas legislative session will tackle the subject of redistricting for the first time since Tom Delay and his partners in political crime forced the people of Texas to live with our incredibly gerrymandered map. Its purpose was to benefit the Texas Republican Party, harm the Texas Democratic Party and, as much as possible, remove the niggling little possibility that Texas voters might actually have the power to affect or influence the results of major elections here. Even the Democratic districts that were left were pretty much safe seats. Delay, Dick Armey and the rest of their merry little band of Machiavellis stuck their grubby little fingers into the mix and, like gods manipulating their computer game minions, succeeded in putting every voter in Texas into “political reservations”. No longer would the simple voter be allowed to mess up control of our state by dominant political machines. In short, what we have in Texas is Party-controlled government. In practical terms, the state of Texas and the two major Parties (preferably the Republican Party) would be (and are) the same thing.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that political machines haven’t always been in charge of Texas (anyone remember Archer or George Parr, “The Duke of Duval County”?). It is simply that before the 1990s, they weren’t as obvious, and they didn’t really care about national influence. It was corruption by Texans, of Texans, for Texans. Any influence that could shovel federal money to us courtesy of our Congressional leaders like John Nance Garner, Sam Rayburn, LBJ, Jim Wright and all of the rest was still corruption by, of and for Texans. There was no intention or desire to tear the rest of the nation down or rip it apart as it seems like is happening now. The thing is, for corruption to flourish, the politicians must be able to promise that they will continue to hold power and maintain the corrupt systems. That is what we have now; entrenched Party corruption. This is why I believe that, regardless of the economic crisis, the healthcare crisis, the ethical crisis, the war crisis, and every other of the many crises faced by Americans, as a whole, and Texans specifically, the single most important issue for Texas voters in 2010 is: “What the Hell will our political districts look like now?

I love Texas. I really do. It is the land of my birth and, no matter how many times I leave it, it’s the land I always return to. Unfortunately, Texas politics often embarrass me. I am not alone in this. There is an old saying here that goes: “Lock up your house and barn; watch your wife and children. The Texas Legislature is in session and nothing is safe.” There are too many things in Texas politics about which to be embarrassed (if not to laugh out loud about in their ridiculousness), too many to list, or even count. Our state constitution, itself, is probably the main one; a document so badly written that the only thing which keeps it from being the single worst one in The United States is the fact that Alabama’s state constitution might actually be the worst one on the entire planet. It is easily the worst one in The United States (http://blavier.newsvine.com/_news/2009/04/06/2646073-we-must-amend-the-constitution-now-), but having the 50th worst constitution out of 51 contenders is nothing to be proud of. A close second to the embarrassment which is the Texas Constitution is arguably our propensity to re-elect incumbents to pretty much any office that they run for.

Texas is a land whose people pride themselves for their fiercely independent spirit. Texas is also a state which avows its hatred of the very idea of a professional political class so much that the annual “salaries” for all legislative offices (including that of the Lt. Governor) is only $7,200 (http://www.laits.utexas.edu/txp_media/html/leg/features/0205_01/compensation.html, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/TT/mkt2.html). Keep in mind that it wasn’t until 1975 that Texas voters voted to raise those salaries from $4,800 up to $7,200… an increase of 50% (it was also at this time when members of our legislature were given a per diem AND could get mileage reimbursement at the same rate that state employees do). Texas government was designed to discourage the rise of a professional political class. Of course, in reality, it also keeps people without other sources of income (i.e. – the poor and the lower middle class) from being practically able to hold such offices. Thus, our fondness for keeping people in elected office is not only an embarrassment, it is rank hypocrisy on a statewide level. Now, I have so far basically said that we here in Texas have a “tendency” to re-elect the same people into government offices time and time again but, at this point, it is merely undocumented hyperbole. Fair enough. Go to the restroom, get yourself a nice beverage and make yourself comfortable because this is going to take awhile. Ready? Good.

(NOTE: If you are not interested in reading through the statistical information I have compiled, please feel free to skip the paragraphs between the two lines below and the two lines after the statistical paragraphs. The information in those paragraphs is included in this article (1) for those who, like me, find such information interesting, and (2) to cut off the need for comments such as “how do you know”, “what are you basing you opinions on”, and “prove it”. Thank you for your understanding on this.)

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To start with, here are some statistics about state level elections in Texas from the 2008 General Election:

The Executive and Judicial offices up for election that year were Railroad Commissioner, three places on the Texas Supreme Court (and yes, we actually elect our Supreme Count members which, of course, makes them political creatures who need to raise election funds instead of allowing them to neutral arbiters of the law) and two places on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (in fact, we elect ALL of our judges here). All seven of them were retained by the incumbents. For those of you who want to keep track, that is seven for seven, so far, or 100%.

For the Texas Congressional delegation, we had one U.S. Senatorial and thirty-two U.S. House seats up for grabs. It shouldn’t surprise you to know that for those seats, all thirty-three incumbents ran for re-election. Want to know how many of them won re-election? Thirty-two of them were sent back to Washington. One of the incumbent Representatives (a Democrat in his first term, if you want to know) was voted out. The score now is thirty-nine out of forty, which comes out to 97.5%.

In the Texas legislature, there were fifteen seats in the Texas Senate and all one hundred and fifty seats in the Texas House up for election. For the Senate seats, all fifteen incumbents ran. Five were re-elected and one was defeated. If you wonder about the other nine seats, don’t worry. For those seats, the incumbents were completely unopposed and, under Texas law, didn’t even need to show up to the actual elections because they are automatically declared the victors (Texas does not have a “none of the above” option for our ballots). Score, fifty-three out of fifty-five now, giving us an incumbent ratio of 96.4%.

For the Texas House seats, one hundred and forty-tw0 out of one hundred and fifty incumbents ran for re-election. After the primary results were in, nine incumbents had been defeated for nomination by their party. Five more were voted out of office in the General Election. One hundred and twenty-eight incumbents were then returned to the Texas House and, out of those one hundred and twenty-eight, seventy-four of those “won” their elections without facing any challenges by their major opposition party, which means that 49.3% of the total seats in the Texas House were filed by people who simply walked into the House unobstructed. This makes our incumbent win record one hundred and eighty-one out of a possible one hundred and ninety-seven (91.9%). With all of these Texas races, out of two-hundred and five elections, one hundred and eighty-one continued to be held by the person who held them before the election, which is a total ratio of 88.3%. (http://www.bipac.net/page.asp?content=texas_elections&g=TEXAS)

Now, let’s take a look at our candidate line-ups for the 2010 election cycle, shall we? Before we even start, I want to point out that, out of 219 races I have analyzed, only two, yes TWO, will have primary contests from all three parties (Democratic, Libertarian and Republican). Only 0.9% of the highest offices in Texas will have the nominees for each race selected from more than one contender in each party. Those two races are for the nominees of each party for Governor and for District 5 on the State Board of Education. Really! Take a moment to think about that. Out of all of the state’s Executive, Judicial and Legislative offices, only one will have three nominees who will actually be determined by the people. (NOTE: For the sake of accuracy, I want to point out that the Texas Libertarian Party selects its nominees by convention but, for simplicity’s sake, I will use the term primary through this article to indicate the need of any party to select its nominees from a slate of several contenders.)

The Texas Executive offices up for grabs this year are those of Governor, Lt. Governor, Attorney General, Comptroller, Land Commissioner, Agriculture Commissioner and Railroad Commissioner. Now, not only is the race for Governor the only Executive office in which there will be three nominees chosen by primary elections, the incumbent in the office of Comptroller (the State’s only financial officer after our elimination of the office of State Treasurer) is only going to be challenged because a Libertarian (our own Mary Ruwart) has filed to challenge the incumbent. The Democratic Party is not running ANYONE for the office. This means that if it wasn’t for the Libertarian Party, the person who is responsible for all financial duties for the entire state of Texas would be the guy who turned in his notarized form; that would have been all it would have taken.

On the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, two of the incumbents are also only being challenged by Libertarians. For the eight seats on the Texas Board of Education, only three of the races have candidates from all three parties. Three of seats only have the incumbent party challenged by Libertarians, although the incumbents in all three of those seats do face primary challenges from within their own Party. The District 4 seat is only being sought by the incumbent… no challenges by either the Democratic or Libertarian Parties and no primary challenge, so he gets to simply walk in.

Neither of our two US Senate seats is up for election this year and, out of out thirty-two seats in the US House, all of the incumbents (20 Republicans and 12 Democrats) are seeking re-election. Of those thirty-two races, only the Republican and Libertarian Parties have candidates for all thirty-two. The Democratic Party only has candidates in twenty-four of those races (which means that one out of every four of these races, the Democratic Party isn’t even showing up for), and in one race, the Constitution Party also has one candidate running.

Of the thirty-two Congressional races, only twelve of the incumbents will face primary challenges from their own party (38%), nine Republicans out of twenty (45%) and three Democrats out of twelve (25%). Of the combined thirty-two races, the only challenges to seven of the Incumbents or the Incumbent’s Party are from Libertarians (22%), and one is from the Libertarians and the single Constitution Party candidate (03%), for a combined eight of the thirty-two seats… again, one out of every four. For all of the Parties, there are eleven Republican Party primaries (34%), five Democratic Party primaries (16%) and twenty Libertarian Party primaries (63%). Thus, out of a total of ninety-six possible primaries, there are thirty-six (38%) and, if you only count the sixty-four possible primaries for the Republican and Democratic Parties, there are only sixteen…which is, yet again, only one out of four. Out of THESE, there are only two races which will have primary challenges for all three parties (2.1%).

For the Texas State Senate, out of sixteen races, fifteen incumbents are seeking re-election (eleven Republicans and four Democrats). Of the sixteen races, the Republican Party has at least one candidate in all of the races, while the Democratic Party is only competing in eight of them, which (for those of us who can count) is only one out of two (50%). The Libertarian Party has candidates in nine of the races for a 56% presence. Of the incumbents running for re-election, only six out of fifteen (40%) face Primary challenges in their own party; four Republicans out of eleven (36%) and one Democrat out of four (25%… again).

In none of these races is there more than one candidate from any of three Parties facing a primary election… which is exactly 00%. In only one of the races (06%) are there two parties which will have primary contests. Out of a total of forty-eight possible primary contests there are only eleven (23%). This means that of sixteen possible primaries for each Party, the Republican Party has six (38%), the Democratic Party has two (13%) and the Libertarian Party has three (19%). For the General Election, only two of the races (13%) will have candidates from all three Parties, six (38%) will have only Republican and Democratic candidates, seven (42%) will have only one of the two major Parties (Republican or Democrat) running against a Libertarian candidate, and one (06%) will have a completely uncontested incumbent.

Finally we get to the Texas State House of Representatives with its one hundred and fifty seats at stake. 94% of the incumbents (one hundred and forty-one out of one hundred and fifty) are running for re-election. There are seventy Republicans and seventy-one Democratic incumbents running, which means that only nine of the seats are guaranteed to have a new person in them. The Republican Party is fielding candidates in one hundred and twelve of the races (75%), the Democratic Party is running in ninety-three of the races (62%) and Libertarians are contesting sixty-four of the races (43%).

Out of the one hundred and forty-one incumbents running, only twenty-three (16%) face primary races…sixteen Republicans (23% of seventy) and seven Democrats (10% out of seventy-one). Of the potential four hundred and fifty possible primary elections, there are only fifty-nine (13%), which is thirty-nine Republican primaries (26% of one hundred and fifty), ten Democratic primaries (07% of one hundred and fifty) and ten Libertarian primaries (again, 07% out of one hundred and fifty).

From all of the one hundred and fifty races, only twenty-seven (18%) have at least one candidate from all three parties. Twenty-nine of the races (19%) have only candidates from both the Republican and the Democratic Parties. Thirty-seven of the races (25%) only have one or more candidate from the Libertarian Party opposing one of the two major Parties. Of the one hundred and forty incumbents running, forty-six of them (33%) of them are completely unopposed (twenty-one Republicans out of seventy for a 30% ratio and twenty-five Democrats out of seventy-one for a 35% ratio). Out of the one hundred and forty-one incumbents running, eleven of the races have the incumbent’s party unopposed by candidates from either of the other two parties 08%). This includes six Republican contests out of seventy (09%) and five Democratic races out of seventy-one (07%).

Now, can you figure out what is the most horrifying statistic which can be made from the above paragraph? I’ll give you a couple of minutes to re-read it. {da da da da da dum} Have you figured it out yet? If it wasn’t for the Libertarian party, ninety-four out of the one hundred and fifty races for seats in the Texas House (63%) would have either the Incumbent or the Incumbent’s Party with no, let me repeat that, with NO opposition. Out of all of the two-hundred and nineteen total races in 2010 that I have broken down, that comes to one hundred and fifteen races (53%) in which there is only a challenge to an incumbent or an incumbent’s Party because of candidates from the Libertarian Party. Do you, like me, think that percentage is WAY too high?

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So, why have I written almost 2,000 words in eighteen paragraphs taking up most of three pages to numb you with statistics that barely a handful of people would even think about? Why have I spent most of my waking hours over two full days making myself blind(er) and giving myself a migraine to have these statistics to write about? It is very simple. Political districts in Texas are so frighteningly gerrymandered (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gerrymandering , http://www.thefreedictionary.com/gerrymander) that almost every seat for every state office in Texas (by which I mean, every elected office which has a specific political district that is smaller than the entire state… US House, Texas Senate and Texas House) is basically considered a safe seat for either a particular candidate or a particular political Party (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Safe_seat) . They are considered so safe that few of them are challenged for and MANY fewer of them still are lost. That should be unacceptable to any person who believes in a democratic form of government.

Both the Republican and the Democratic Parties (especially the Republican Party over the last decade) have worked and legislated to not only make it infinitely easier to stay in office than it would be in a system in which voters have the true power over our government, they make it almost impossible for any new parties to challenge their political hegemony. Even if the two major parties hate each other, it is still in the best interest of both of them to keep the playground closed to other kids, as it were.

The Texas state Constitution makes these requirements for legislative districts (Article III, sections 25 and 26):

(25) “The State shall be divided into senatorial districts of contiguous territory according to the number of qualified electors, as nearly as may be, and each district shall be entitled to elect one senator, and no single county shall be entitled to more than one senator.

(26) “The members of the House of Representatives shall be apportioned among the several counties, according to the number of population in each, as nearly as may be, on a ratio obtained by dividing the population of the State, as ascertained by the most recent United States census, by the number of members of which the house is composed; provided, that, whenever a single county has sufficient population to be entitled to a representative, such county shall be formed into a separate representative district, and when two or more counties are required to make up the ration of representation such counties shall be contiguous to each other; and when any one county has more than sufficient population to be entitled to one or more representatives, such representative or representatives shall be apportioned to such county, and for any surplus of population it may be joined in a representative district with any other contiguous county or counties.

Now, take a look at (1) the current c0ngressional districting map for Texas (http://congdistdata.tamu.edu/USCongressionalDistricts.pdf), (2) The current Texas Senate districting map (http://www.laits.utexas.edu/txp_media/html/leg/features/0400_04/plans01188.html), and (3) the current Texas House districting map (http://www.laits.utexas.edu/txp_media/html/leg/features/0400_02/planh01369.html). You tell me whether or not you think that these districts are gerrymandered or if they meet the requirements of the Texas Constitution.*

[*By the way, when I was doing my Google searches for the Texas state government district maps, two of the results that popped up were “Dante’s Inferno – Circle 8 – Subcircles 1-6 – Cantos 18-23” and “Dante’s Purgatorio – Terrace 5: Avarice And Prodigality”. Do any of my readers find that as unbelievably funny as I do? Just curious.]

To have a functioning democracy, it isn’t enough to have the right to vote. We must also have both a selection of candidates from which to chose AND the power to determine who WE want in office rather than who the Parties want. Right now, for all practical purposes to be a candidate for any of the offices which I have covered, you must have all of your paperwork in the hands of the Texas Secretary of State on the first business day of January. This allows candidates to be listed on the ballots in time for the state primary elections. Parties like the Libertarian Party have to use conventions to determine their nominees which use a slightly different schedule than the primary schedule, but the filing deadline is the same.

So, what is it about our elections, as described by me up to this point, which rob voters of power over our elections? First, there is no opportunity for citizens to see which races do not have any competition and then work to raise more candidates. This means that even the two major Parties are stuck with whoever met the filing deadline. Second, while minor Parties (Libertarian, Green, etc.) have to use a convention method to choose their candidates, those candidates STILL have to have their paperwork filed by the January filing deadline. This means that the convention delegates can ONLY “choose” candidates who met the filing deadline. They have no opportunity to control the process and, except in elections when they have more than one member of their party to choose from, are stuck with whoever had their paperwork in on time. There are processes to declare a write-in candidacy or to get on the ballot as an unaffiliated / Independent candidate, but are not practical means in the state of Texas to give the voters more choices or options besides those who handed in a notarized form by the first business day after New Year’s.

To truly be in control of who represents them in their governments, the process has to be designed to remove the power of the Parties over the process. We need districts which are completely non-partisan and politically neutral. We need to make it easier for more candidates to get on the ballots. We need enough candidates running for every office that all of the Parties will need to actively campaign to win their Party’s nomination in the primaries and conventions before they campaign for the actual office. We need to examine different methods of voting which put control of the outcomes in the hands of the electorate. (http://blavier.newsvine.com/_news/2009/04/21/2714028-the-laboratory-of-democracy-alternative-voting-methods-approval-voting-re-edited) We need to reduce the costs of filing for office by independents and others who do not have the backing of a Party which has ballot access, and of running a campaign for office. We also need to remove the bureaucratic barriers which make it difficult to even be on the ballot.

The thing is, if we were to solve all of the issues which I have raised, we will end up with better people in office. While many people complain about the lengths and costs of campaigns by candidates for the office of President, there is one good benefit of the process, which is that it hones a candidate’s skills and message, AND gives the press time to learn more about the candidates than the candidates might want us to know. Winning an election to become the President of The United States does not make a candidate a victor, it makes them a survivor. The other main benefit to the voters making changes to our election process is that we will end up with officeholders with a wide range of beliefs, skills, and knowledge. Diversity is not found in the color of someone’s skin, their gender or their sexual orientation; it is found when you have people with differing beliefs working together to create our laws and operate our governments. Homogeneity of ideas is the worst enemy of true diversity.

As much as people of any particular ideology might think that having people holding the same ideological beliefs as they do in every office would create a perfect government, they are wrong. Good decisions are not made when everyone agrees; they are made when people with differing beliefs can work together and challenge each other to make the best decisions. (http://blavier.newsvine.com/_news/2009/06/11/2918292-groupthink-as-a-political-mental-illness-part-i, http://blavier.newsvine.com/_news/2009/06/15/2933680-groupthink-as-a-political-mental-illness-part-ii) I recently ran across a blog, called ‘Divided We Stand, United We Fall’, which has apparently been around since 2007. It has some very good stuff in it but I want to point my readers to a particular article on that site (http://westanddivided.blogspot.com/2007/07/curing-libertarian-political-impotence.html).

This is why I say that the SINGLE most important issue for the Libertarians in the 2010 election is the redistricting which will be done by Texas (and the other states) in 2011. Unless we can literally change the political map next year, we will simply spend another decade as a fringe party which has no REAL impact on our laws or on the operation of our government. This is the case that the Libertarian Party needs to be making to the citizens of Texas, as well as to voters all across The United States. We need to make sure that the voters in every district know that, while they have no power to determine who gets elected by voters in other districts, they can still have an impact by choosing to send Libertarians, in those districts which have Libertarian candidates, or people of differing ideologies that the current prevailing ones as their representatives in Austin and in all of the other state capitals. NONE of many problems can be fixed if we don’t have the best people in office to work on them. If we cannot make them understand the importance of redistricting as a way for THEM to have more power over those in political office, then we will fail them. Voters may get the “government that they deserve” but, if we can’t give them real choices about who they can vote into office, they will never have to opportunity to deserve a better government.

For more information, please see http://texaspolitics.laits.utexas.edu/6_printable.html.

Rhys M. Blavier
Romayor, Texas

Truth, Justice and Honor… but, above all, Honor

© Copyright 2010 by Rhys M. Blavier

Thank you for reading this article. Please read my other articles and let me know what you think. I am writing them not to preach or to hear myself think but to try to create dialogs, debates and discussions on the nature of our government and how we can build upon and improve it based on what we have seen and learned over the course of the 225 years of The American Experiment.

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The American Vice Presidency… Graveyard of the Constitution

In Congress, Democracy, Democrats, History, Law, Libertarian, Politics, Republican, US Government on August 27, 2009 at 7:12 pm

America’s first Vice President, John Adams, described the office as “the most insignificant office that ever the Invention of Man contrived or his Imagination conceived”. When Daniel Webster was offered the nomination of Vice President, he said “I do not intend to be buried until I am dead”. Perhaps the most succinct assessment of the office was given by Texan John Nance Garner, a former and powerful Speaker of The House of Representatives and Vice President under FDR for two full terms, who claimed that the office wasn’t “worth a bucket of piss”.

In many ways, the office of Vice President of The United States can be seen as the most singular indication of the noble goals and yet practical failure of The United States Constitution, and its fate was sealed before the 19th Century even began. While there might have once been a chance for the Vice Presidency to have been an office of viable contribution to the functioning of The United States’ government, there are five key moments in early American history which, I believe, combined to relegate the office itself to impotence and insignificance only moderated by either the good will of any particular President or by the vacation of the office of President and subsequent elevation of a Vice President to that office. The first of these moments was the creation of the office itself (1787).  The idea was that it would be held by a major statesman, the candidate for President who came in second and who would, for the greater good of his nation, join the administration of the victor.  Yet within this idea was still recognition of the reality of opposition and the understanding that you would not want to give the primary challenger of the President any real power with which to work against the Chief Executive.  Thus was an office created in which the primary requirement was, apparently, to have a pulse. 

While, primarily because of their revolutionary credentials, Washington’s Vice President, John Adams succeeded him as President, and then Adams’ Vice President, Thomas Jefferson succeeded him, the office of Vice President has not been seen as a natural stepping stone to the Presidency.  After Jefferson, and after the adoption of the 12th Amendment to The Constitution (which provided for the direct election of the Vice President) the only Vice Presidents who have been elected to be President WITHOUT FIRST having already assumed the office through the death or resignation of the previous holder of that office have been Martin Van Buren (1836), Richard Nixon (1968), and George H. W. Bush (1988).  Furthermore, of those three men, Richard Nixon was not the current Vice President when he was elected, having lost to John Kennedy in 1960.  Thus, the two men after Jefferson who were elected to the office of President while holders of the office of Vice President served only two terms between them for a total of eight years, and the three men combined for 4 terms and less than 14 years out of the whole of the history of The United States.  By contrast, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, John Quincy Adams and James Buchanan (the 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th and 15th Presidents) all served as Secretary of State and served as President for eight terms and a total of 32 years, while several others served as Ambassadors or envoys to other sovereign nations.  So, we can see that diplomatic credentials have been seen as better qualifying a candidate to be President than serving as Vice President has been.

The second moment in history’s conspiracy to insure the insignificance of the office of Vice President was George Washington’s view that the office was a part of the Legislative branch of the government rather than part of the Executive branch (1789). As a result, Washington not only did not include Adams in his cabinet meetings or consult him very frequently on matters within the Executive Branch. He believed, in fact, that he was not ALLOWED to do so as part of The Constitution’s requirements for separation of powers. It is impossible to minimize the influence Washington had on establishing the precedents and operational functions of The United States government as established by The Constitution. If any man in history had it in his power to make from nothing a relevant constitutional office of the Vice Presidency, it was Washington; but he did not do so. As aware as the Revolutionary generation was that they were making history, they seemed to have had no awareness of the importance of the precedents which they were establishing every day as part of a continuity of history which would last for centuries.

In many ways, they were making it up as they went along and the openness of the Experiment they had initiated would have permitted them to follow almost any vision that they could have put into practice.

The third moment in this sorry tale was the decision of The Senate to forbid the Vice President from being part of the debates and deliberations of their body (1789). We can never know how much of this decision was inspired by the personal rancor and dislike felt by many members of The Senate for the person of John Adams and how much was an inevitable course which would have been followed no matter who had been The Senate’s first presiding officer.

In the end, it makes little difference. While Washington did not consider the Vice President a member of the Executive Branch, The Senate did not consider the officeholder a contributing part of their august body or, therefore, of the Legislative branch of government. While a man with more people skills and a more stable temperament might have been able to make the Senators accept the Vice President as a full member of The Senate, John Adams was not that man. As Adams wrote to his wife Abigail, “It is to be sure a punishment to hear other men talk five hours every day and not be at liberty to talk at all myself, especially as more than half I hear appears to me very young, inconsiderate and inexperienced.” If Washington had made the Vice President insignificant as a member of the Executive branch, The Senate itself made him insignificant as a member of the Legislative branch. All of this, of course, reaches new heights of irony in the person of our former Vice President, Dick Cheney, who has used this ‘confusion’ to declare himself the beneficiary of the rights and privileges of both branches while, at the same time, free of the obligations or restraints upon either branch. The burden of the fourth moment in our tragic history of the establishment of the role of the Vice Presidency falls squarely on the shoulders of the second holder of that office, Thomas Jefferson (1797).

Adams, for all of his faults of personality, truly cared for what was best for the nation he served. He did not plan to treat Jefferson, as Vice President, as he had been treated himself (or, as Tom Lehrer put so humorously in his satirical song about Hubert Humphrey and the treatment of Humphrey as Vice President by Lyndon Johnson as President, “I’ll do unto you as they did unto me.”).  As Joseph Ellis tells so well in his Pulitzer Prize winning book ‘Founding Brothers, Adams fully desired to work with Jefferson to create a bipartisan administration which utilized both of their talents and skills (Chapter Five: The Collaborators). 

He wanted Jefferson to be a functioning member of his cabinet and an active participant in foreign policy efforts. Jefferson, influenced greatly by the advice of James Madison, chose to be a party man and watch the Adams administration fail without him. Jefferson, at this time, chose the good of his party over the good of his nation. After Adams’ desire to give the office a ‘place at the table’, it wasn’t until Warren G. Harding took office in 1921 that a President again made the choice to include his Vice President in his cabinet meetings, and it wasn’t until Richard Nixon’s service under Dwight Eisenhower that a Vice President was given a substantial and public role by the President but, in all cases, up to and including the present, the role and power of a particular Vice President has been dependent upon their President to give it to them.

If the damage done to the office of Vice President was not already irreversible by the election of 1800, that election itself ensured that it was permanent, and the blame for it can be placed on the personage of Aaron Burr. If one wants to make the case that the Adams’ Vice Presidency was not a standard to judge by because of the newness of the office, or that the Jefferson Vice Presidency cannot be used because he was of an opposition political position to his President, then there is no excuse for the damage done to the office by Burr before he was even inaugurated, damage so great, in fact, that the first substantive change to The US Constitution was made to prevent the circumstances from ever again even being possible through the adoption of the 12th Amendment. For the election of 1800, the supporters of Jefferson and his Republican / Anti-Federalist movement conspired to maneuver the election so that their candidates would end up holding the offices of both the Presidency and the Vice Presidency. While they succeeded in the goal of having all of their electors vote for both Jefferson and Burr, they apparently never considered the ramifications of this actually happening. They believed that somehow, without any need to orchestrate it as well, some random elector would cast his vote for Jefferson but not cast their second vote for Burr. The conspiracy, however, was too well planned and the soldiers followed their marching orders without deviation…and Jefferson and Burr ended up exactly tied in the electoral vote totals.

At this point, a good party man would have fallen into line and worked to finish what had been started, but Burr was an opportunist whose personal desires completely overshadowed any belief he may have had in the greater good. When the election went to The House of Representatives, Burr fought to win the Presidency for himself. He almost managed to pull the feat off as it took 36 ballots in The House before Hamilton intervened and one member chose to abstain. Well, after that, what President would trust the man he was stuck with as Vice President? And so, Burr alienated himself from any role in Jefferson’s first administration and The Constitution was changed…and changed VERY quickly.

The new nation went through only four elections, three administrations and 12 years before the first substantial flaw in the design of the governmental structure of The United States had to be addressed. 46 men have been dumped into the graveyard of The Constitution, including 2 men who each served under two different Presidents (George Clinton under Jefferson and Madison, and John C. Calhoun under John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson). Except for the ones who eventually became President themselves or who have served in a person’s own lifetime, how many people can name even one of them? The Vice Presidency is a unique office with a unique role in government. If we want evidence of the lack of experience which burdened the men who created The Constitution, all we need do is look at the Office of The Vice President of The United States. However, if we do look at it, we will have done more than most people ever do.

P.S.– It might also be of interest, for anyone who wants to consideration how truly UNimportant the office of Vice President has been to our nation over the entire course of its history, for me to point out that, while we have never had any real period without a President since Washington first took the oath of office in 1889, between the years 1812 (when the office was vacated upon the death of Vice President George Clinton) and 1974 (when the office was vacated by the elevation of Vice President Gerald Ford to the Office of President) (a period of 162 years), there were 18 different times when we were without a Vice President totaling more than 426 months (35.5 years, an average of 23.666 months per vacancy). This includes two periods when the office was vacant for 47 months (out of a 48 month term of office), but does NOT include any periods when the holder of the office just left Washington and ignored his role in government (as, for example, Richard Mentor Johnson did during Van Buren’s administration).

As an indication of how little impact the absence of a Vice President has meant to the functions of our government, I would simply ask how many of you reading this have ever even wondered just how often the office has even been vacant because there WAS no holder of the office?

As a point of useless trivia from an infomaniac, did you know that the first Vice President to die in office (George Clinton) died about a year before the end of his second term (Clinton had served one term as President Jefferson’s second Vice President and his second term as Vice President was consecutive to his first when he was elected to be Vice President under Jefferson’s successor, President James Madison, for Madison’s first term.  For Madison’s second term of office, he ran and served with Vice President Elbridge Gerry, who THEN proceeded to die in office after about a year and a half into his term.  As a result, President James Madison served with a different Vice President for each of his two terms in office and neither of them lived to complete their own terms.

Rhys M. Blavier
Romayor, Texas 
 

Truth, Justice and Honor… but, above all Honor

© copyright 2008 by Rhys M. Blavier
________________________________________________________________________________  

Thank you for reading this article. Please read my other articles and let me know what you think. I am writing them not to preach or to hear myself think but to try to create dialogs, debates and discussions on the nature of our government and how we can build upon and improve it based on what we have seen and learned over the course of the 225 years of The American Experiment.

How I Think The Constitution Can Be Fixed (Part III [c]: Article I – The Legislative Branch)

In Congress, Democracy, Democrats, History, Law, Libertarian, Libertarian Politics, Politics, Republican, US Government on June 15, 2009 at 12:53 pm

Section 6, paragraph one deals with Congressional compensation for their services.  Many years ago, Congress enacted standing legislation to provide them with regular pay raises UNLESS Congress, at the time of EACH particular raise, actively raises the issue and votes against it.  This is one of the examples I was referring to when I talked about how Congress makes what will be their path of least resistance be what benefits them, rather than the people.  Thus, if Congress does NOTHING, is silent and doesn’t even raise the issue, they get their raise each year.  In ADDITION, they get unbelievable pensions based on how long they served as well as life time healthcare.

To me, this is another simple issue to deal with.  Tie the salaries of ALL federally elected officials to the median incomes of the American people, not counting bonuses or other backdoor ways of hitching things a little higher for them. Based on the real and reported income of all citizens who file income tax reports, divided by ALL citizens, let’s say that (as a starting point for discussion), members of the House would receive an annual salary based on what 60% of the median incomes of all Americans equals to, with Officers of The House getting 62.5%.  Members of The Senate would get a salary based on 65% of the median income, with Senate officers getting 67.5%.  Members of the Supreme Court would get 70% of the median, with The Chief Justice and The Vice President getting 72.5%.  Finally, the highest salary allowed would go to The President, with the salary of that office being based on the 75% of the median incomes of all Americans.

Now, I want everyone to notice something.  I did NOT say that these salaries should be based on mean, or AVERAGE incomes (the total of all incomes divided by the total number of people), I said that they would b based on the MEAN incomes.  The mean is a statistical average based on the individual numbers which are ranked from highest to lowest.  Thus, Bill Gates is only one statistical number, while a disabled elderly person who has an annual income of $5,000 is another individual number equal to Bill Gates.  A median average would give a much more accurate picture of how much average Americans earn and tie the salaries of Constitutional and elected Federal officials to that average.

So, what would THIS accomplish?  Several things; for one, it would make elected Federal officials more caring about how much money the American people have because their own welfare would be improved by having more people earning (and reporting) higher incomes.  In fact, the more income earned by those at the bottom quarter, half and three-quarter marks of the social ladder, the higher the income they would make themselves.  For another, it would increase their focus on eliminating loopholes which allow people to underreport their own incomes. The fiscal conservatives tend to support theories which state that there is a finite amount of REAL income (as opposed to, say, capital income) which is available.  Thus, to raise the income levels of those at the lower ends of the social ladder would mean that the additional monies would have to come at the expense of the earnings of those at the top of the social ladder.  For yet another thing, the more money earned by AND KEPT by corporations and businesses is money that is NOT increasing the income levels of the bottom three-quarters of the income bracket.  This would make Congress more likely to support higher individual wages and eliminate more corporate loopholes.  Again, the more money earned by the most people would benefit them personally… and if the incomes of average Americans goes down, so does theirs.  We would all swim or sink together.  Their pay rates would be worked out and modified every two calendar years to coincide with election cycles.

As for pensions and permanent healthcare, I do not believe that people should make holding elective or political offices their primary livelihoods.  I am against, as I have said before, a professional political class.  I believe in the founders’ idea of people who would make sacrifices in their own lives of short periods of time to serve their nation with their public service and would then go back to their public lives.  Thus, ANY elected official, or any official who is subject to Senate approval would not earn ANY pension or retirement benefits for their time in service.  Regarding members of The Supreme Court, I will deal with them in the part(s) of this article which deal with Article III of The Constitution.

Section 6, paragraph two is the one that says that no Senator or Representative can hold another civil office in The United States during their tenure in their respective House, and that no officer or official of The United States can serve as a Senator or Representative while they hold their other office or position.  This, among other things, is what prevents us from having a Parliamentary system of government and ensures that the membership of each branch of government will be totally and completely distinct and separate from the others.  It also says that:

No Senator or Representative shall… be appointed to any civil office under the authority of The United States which shall have been CREATED, or the Emoluments whereof shall have been Increased during such time [as they served as a Senator or Representative]…”

THIS portion of The Constitution does need to be addressed to clarify, one way or the other, what authority the Executive branch does or doesn’t  have to appoint sitting or recently sitting members of Congress to other civil positions … especially with automatic pay raises being provided for all such civil offices.  Either our Constitution very specifically prohibits this and it is accepted by all members of our government or we change it.  I personally would rather leave it as it is and expect our government to abide by such limitations.

Well, I think this is a good place to end this part of this article.  When we come back, I will address the rest of Article III, including legislation to raise revenue, the budget, and the enumerated powers and authorities of Congress.

(This article will be continued in Part III [d], which will continue discussing Article I of The Constitution.)

Rhys M. Blavier

Romayor, Texas

Truth, Justice and Honor… but, above all, Honor

© Copyright 2009 by Rhys M.  Blavier

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Thank you for reading this article.  Please read my other articles and let me know what you think.  I am writing them not to preach or to hear myself think but to try to create dialogs, debates and discussions on the nature of our government and how we can build upon and improve it based on what we have seen and learned over the course of the 225 years of The American Experiment.

How I Think The Constitution Can Be Fixed (Part III [b]: Article I – The Legislative Branch)

In Congress, Democracy, Democrats, History, Law, Libertarian, Libertarian Politics, Politics, Republican, US Government on June 11, 2009 at 1:52 am

From Article I, Section 3, paragraphs six and seven, the portions of the provisions for either House regarding impeachment require no changes other than possibly the provision that the threat of and right to impeach is a constitutional DUTY of Congress and it cannot surrender its willingness to implement that duty when it is called for.  To do so is malfeasance in the performance of their constitutional duties and should subject any members of Congress who are willing to agree to surrender their willingness to fulfill ANY of their obligations and duties under The Constitution.

Section 4 of Article I deals with the times and places of elections of Representatives and Senators, and with the requirement for Congress to meet at least once every year.

I think that the provisions for periods of adjournments and recesses by Congress are not appropriate to our modern day government.  For those who argue that they do not want Congress in session any longer than it has to be, while I don’t entirely disagree with them, I think the larger and more important issue is how just adjournments and recesses empower the Executive branch as the expense of the Legislative branch.  While I will deal more with such things as ‘recess appointments’ in the part(s) of this article which deal Article II of The Constitution (The Executive Branch), I am against ANYTHING which serves to make the Legislative branch less than equal to the Executive branch, much less subservient to it.  Thus, I think that Congress should never be considered in recess and only be adjourned by standing legislation which provides for pre-defined periods of adjournment, focused around legal federal holidays (not religious holidays) and, say, a single one week-long adjournment each  quarter of the year… each one, preferably centered around an appropriate federal holiday each quarter.  At ALL other times it would be required to be in session (and remember, I would not allow for any member of Congress to hold office for more than a single term, so there would be no NEED for Congress to be in adjournment during election cycles).

Section 5 deals with various procedural matters (such as judging their own elections, the power to compel attendance by absent members, and the prohibition against adjourning for more than three days while in session).  Paragraph two deals with allowing each House to punish and/or expel its own members.  It also states that each House shall determine its own rules for proceedings.  Paragraph three covers the requirements of each House to keep a journal of its proceedings ad periodically publish those journals, as well as the requirement of each House to record the ‘Yeas and Nays’ (i.e. – the votes) of each House and to publish those totals for either House upon the request of one-fifth of the membership of that House.

While The Constitution should not get into the minutia of establishing all of the rules for either House, there are some which I think it would be appropriate to enact, enshrine and enforce within The Constitution.  Among these are:

1.)   No office created by either House of Congress can be specific to any particular political party.  While any party can choose to elect its own leadership by whatever methods it wants, it does not mean that those elected to such offices are deserving of extra pay by the nation or extra privileges and powers within Congress for holding an office restricted to the members of that Party.

2.)  All officers elected by either House should be selected by secret nomination and secret ballot.  I would also recommend the use of Approval Voting for the actual elections.  Again, this would be to try to help break the stranglehold on power which any party holds simply by having more members that any other party.  This provision would probably result in most offices being held by less extremist party loyalists.  If our nation can succeed in establishing a viable third-party, it will throw the current methods of selecting Congressional offices in the toilet anyway.  Let’s do what we can to speed that process up a bit.

3.)   All ballots casts by members of either House should be cast in secret and the individual results of any vote kept but only revealed (published) 25 years later for historical purposes.  Now, I know that this one is going to be met with shock by most people.  After all, how else are we supposed to keep tabs of what these people actually do?  Well, stop and think about this one for awhile.  Let me explain my reasoning for this idea.  Why do WE cast OUR ballots in secret?  So that no one WILL know exactly how we voted which, among other things, limits to ability of anyone else to threaten or intimidate us.  Open balloting in Congress does not help ‘we the people’, it helps the parties, lobbyists and special interest groups keep members of Congress in line with what benefits THEM the most, not what benefits us the most.  Open balloting in Congress allows the political parties, the lobbyists, the special interests groups, the media and, yes, even the people to threaten and intimidate individual Congress who might otherwise have the will to vote their according to their conscious as they believe is right rather than how others want to compel them to vote.   This is also one of the major ways that the two parties effectively prevent other viable parties from having a voice in our system of government (the other major way that they accomplish this is by the maintenance of our current Majoritarian / Plurality election system). (Please see my earlier article on ‘The Laboratory of Democracy — Alternative Voting Methods (Approval Voting) [Re-edit]’ for a more detailed explanation of this idea.)  It is also what allows small groups of extremists to move the politics in Congress in extremist directions and which makes moderate or centrist positions untenable to maintain.

With a provision that, in an investigation, a select independent committee can review specific votes and make them public IF they show evidence or a pattern of corruption, malfeasance or negligence, but also with a protection provision that baseless accusation for no purpose other than to discover what a personal voting record is will be a felony, this provision could provide safety and protection for those legislators who do want to go along with their party’s line on any particular issue.  So, how is a member of Congress judged if their individual votes are not known?  They would be judged in two ways. First, they would be judged by what they say on the record and, second, they would be judged by what their House accomplishes or FAILS to accomplish.  Under this method, ALL members of a House are collectively responsible for what that House does or doesn’t do… they rise or fall together.   This means that their motivation which change to being how can they work together to make them all look good.  Just think about it for awhile, ok?

4.)  Right now, most legislation includes meaningless introductions which tell us how wonderful it is and how it will single-handedly make the world a better place to live (and they are capped off with some kind of sensationalist title which will make those who vote against it sound like they are bad Americans for voting against it… especially those who don’t actually read the proposed legislation that they are voting on.  I believe that ALL legislation proposed and voted on in either House of Congress should include measurable and quantifiable goals, and specific objectives to indicate what will be considered a successful result of the legislation.  Goals and objectives, strategies and tactics.  I also believe all legislative objectives should include a time frame by which the legislation must accomplish its goals or it will automatically cease to have legal standing.  This is not a meaningless point.  The example I like to use has to do with Civil Rights legislation.  Under the legislation as written, neither side of the debate has an actual motivation to see the objectives of the legislation accomplished.  Each side uses it as a weapon with which to attack the other, and leaders on both sides have built their power bases upon the on-going conflict it engenders.  There is more political power to be gained by keeping the conflict going than there is in accomplishing its purposes.  Now, imagine if that legislation had included measurable, definable and quantifiable goals AND it had an objective of accomplishing those goals in, say, 25 years.  One way or the other the legislation would end; the only question would be “when” it would end.  Those who are fighting for the achievement of those civil rights would have been motivated to make sure that the goals were achieved before the end of the 25-year deadline so as to get them in place, and the side which was not in favor of the penalties and restrictions imposed by the legislation would be motivated to accomplish those goals as quickly as possible so that the legislation would go away as quickly as possible.  In either case, if the goals were either not achieved or led to the consideration of additional goals, new legislation could be crafted and proposed at that time which would better meet the needs of that time and that generation.  The purpose of this proposal is to give ALL sides reasons to work together to accomplish things rather than give them reasons to fight against each other endlessly.

To justify why this should be import, keep in mind all of the calls by the people and politicians for, and interpretations by the courts based on what the ‘intention of the founders’ was.  Intention is difficult to know, and impossible to speculate on to determine law when those intentions are never officially, and reliably set forth and documented.  The fact that the founders destroyed all OFFICIAL minutes and notes from The Constitutional Convention can only leave us with one of two ways to make such judgments; either the founders did not WANT us to base our interpretations and decisions based on what THEY intended (which means that we do, in fact, have a LIVING Constitution), OR, they did not understand how important it would be to us to be able to discern their intentions when we try to interpret what they intended.  We need to not only insure that the present generation fully understands what we are trying to do and what we want to accomplish, we need future generations to understand why we felt each specific law was necessary… our intentions, in other words.  Goals and objectives would make legislation easier to interpret and less likely to be twisted and MISinterpreted by other.  It would also allow those who read a law thoroughly to see if the actual content and execution of the law is true to its goals and objectives.

5.)  That idea leads us to Thomas Jefferson’s theories of generational laws.  He said “[B]etween society and society, or generation and generation, there is no municipal obligation, no umpire but the law of nature. . . . [B]y the law of nature, one generation is [therefore] to another as one independent nation to another.”  He also said “Every constitution, then, and every law, naturally expires at the end of 19 years. If it be enforced longer, it is an act of force, and not of right.” (http://www.conlaw.org/Intergenerational-II-2-9.htm) I believe in the idea of generational laws (with all laws having a natural expiration deadline of either 25 or 50 years (generations being longer now that they were when Jefferson wrote that, and some laws being more important than others), depending on the law, with 25 being the norm and 50 being the exception, for several reasons.  First, laws seem to work conversely to the adage that it is easier to destroy than it is to build.  With law, it is easier to pass one than it is to get rid of one.  When politicians or officials come along later and try to have a law removed from the books, the tendency is to wonder what ulterior motives they ‘really have (no matter how bad or irrelevant the law might be) and political inertia tends to win.

As a result, our legal systems end up cluttered with an unbelievable number of laws which are either (a) no longer of any value, (b) no longer in sync with the progress of our culture or, (c) just plain stupid.  A generational law standard would mean, first of all, that no one would have to actively campaign or fight to have laws actively removed piecemeal.  By doing nothing the laws will just go away.  If they still have value or there is still a need for them, they can be re-written and passed again. Secondly, the future will not be bound by considerations or standards of the past which no longer apply to them.  Thirdly, politicians are, by nature, egomaniacs who want to be immortal, and the way a politician becomes immortal is by sticking us with their own ideas of how we should live (i.e. – with laws).  When all of the basic laws are already in place, they have to go farther and farther to find their own immortality.  I would rather have them continually working on and improving basic legislation than to have them spending their time finding cruel and unusual ways to torment, punish and control ‘we the people’.

6.)  I think that all of us, all of us who are not in Congress, at least, would agree that the Legislative Amendment process is out of control and all too easily abused by politicians who cannot get their own moronic ideas passed into law on their own merits; or who want to ‘game the system’ by attaching bad legislation to other legislation that, itself, cannot be voted down.  Riders and amendments are a bane to good legislation which can be (a) understood, (b) respected, and (c) followed by everyone.  This would be simple to deal with.  Any amendment or rider which has nothing to do with the primary legislation AND / OR which does not have the support of the primary author of the legislation (not sponsors or co-sponsors, the primary author) can only be attached to the proposed legislation by a super-majority vote of two-thirds of the House in which it has been proposed in.  Any rider or amendment which does relate to the primary legislation AND has the support of the primary author can be attached if it gets a majority vote in the House in which it has been proposed.  Note: these votes would NOT be to approve the amendments or riders, only to allow them to be attached to the primary legislation before IT was voted on.  For those who want the President to have a line item veto authority, all that would have to be done here would be to say that he has the power and authority to approve or veto the results of such votes before they can be attached to the primary legislation (as provided for in Article I, Section 7, paragraph four of The Constitution).

7.)   Congress has made themselves exempt from abiding by the laws that they force on the rest of us.  This is one of the (many) reasons why it is so easy for Congress to hypocritically impose legislation on ‘we the people’ that is harsh or intolerable… because THEY don’t have to also live with the consequences of their decisions.  This blanket exemption needs to be removed and, any individual exemptions that they want to pass for themselves should be stated publicly, be required to undergo a full and open debate, require a two-thirds super-majority of BOTH Houses AND be subject to Presidential  vetoes for which it would take a three-fourths super majority of both Houses to override.

8.)  As in all things, politicians will take the paths of least resistance.  If their path of least resistance in legislation is to maintain the status quo by not voting for something, they will do that.  Conversely, if they have to actively vote for the status quo to maintain it, they will let it change.  As an example of what I mean by this, consider automatic Congressional pay raises.  Those raises will automatically take place unless Congress actively votes to stop them.  Thus, the path of least resistance is to maintain the status quo by doing nothing and, as a result, allow the raises to happen.  If the legislative process required on-going legislation to require active votes to keep it going, and the path of least resistance is to not vote for something (like the pay raises), they will not vote for them and they won’t happen.  The direction of how Congress votes for on-going legislation needs to be changed so that the path of least resistance is what benefits ‘we the people’ and not what benefits Congress or the government.

(This article will be continued in Part III [c], which will continue discussing Article I of The Constitution.)

Rhys M. Blavier

Romayor, Texas

Truth, Justice and Honor… but, above all, Honor

© Copyright 2009 by Rhys M.  Blavier

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Thank you for reading this article.  Please read my other articles and let me know what you think.  I am writing them not to preach or to hear myself think but to try to create dialogs, debates and discussions on the nature of our government and how we can build upon and improve it based on what we have seen and learned over the course of the 225 years of The American Experiment.

How I Think The Constitution Can Be Fixed (Part III [a]: Article I – The Legislative Branch)

In Congress, Corruption, Democracy, Democrats, History, Law, Libertarian, Libertarian Politics, Politics, Republican, US Government on June 1, 2009 at 1:35 am

Congress, The Legislative Branch of The United States of America was, as ‘the people’s house‘, intended to be the most powerful of the three branches of government created by The Constitution… a ‘first among equals‘, as it were.  Of the 4,543 words of The Constitution, the 2,312 words of Article I constitute just over half of the total (50.89%).  Unlike Article II (The Executive Branch) and Article III (The Judicial Brach), Article I deals very much with the actual workings, duties, powers and authorities of Congress.  A primary reason for this, I assume, is that the founders had a long history of experience with operating a working, functioning Congress or Legislature.  They also had more trust of a strong legislative branch than they did of a strong executive branch.

The first representative legislative body established in the American Colonies, in fact, in ANY of the British Colonies, was Virginia’s House of Burgesses, which was created in 1619… 170 years before the creation of Congress under The Constitution.  Before and during the Revolutionary Period, ALL of the American Colonies had functioning state legislatures and, at the national-level, the first Continental Congress had been called in 1765.  Under the Articles of Confederation, Congress ran the nation with a VERY weak Executive, who was appointed by Congress itself to preside over ‘A Committee of The States‘.  The delegates to the Constitutional Convention well understood what a legislative branch could do, although, prior to The Constitution, members of Congress for any state were appointed by the legislatures of that state.  As such, apportionment by census and direct elections of the members of The House of Representatives was their great experiment with a representative legislature.  Members of The Senate, of course, continued to be appointed by each state’s own legislature until the passage of Amendment XVII, which was ratified in 1913 (although some states had been providing for the direct election of their Senators by the people of those states as early as 1907).

It was never the intention of the founders to create a permanently ruling political class.  They envisioned men, who would, for a short period of time, leave their private lives, take up the burden of public service for the good of the nation and then go back to their private lives.  This idea was only one of many visions of theirs that did not survive our national transition from our ‘first generation‘ to our ‘second generation‘ [see ‘Part I‘ of this article for an explanation of my theory of the first and second generational effects].  Many Americans have the mistaken belief that the founders created a two-party system.  This is patently false, but still many of our children are taught it.  The founders tried to create a NO-party system, with the idea that individual members of Congress would band together is short-lived coalitions for each separate issue that came before them.  This is another idea which not only did not survive our nation’s first generation; it did not survive the Washington administration.  This is probably the biggest reason that party politics dominates our government, because The Constitution did not provide any guidelines for or controls / limitations upon them.

Several of my suggested changes will be attempts show how I think that we can restore the founders’ original concept of public service to our government, and show a way to end or, at least, make it more difficult for the continuation of our professional and permanently ruling political class.  These suggestions will be made to try to minimize the amount of time elected officials have to spend in their continuous cycle of staying elected, to maximize their learning curve and effectiveness in office, and to reduce their susceptibility to the corrupting effects of long-term office holding.  They will also have a goal of wanting to breaking the stranglehold which the two major parties have on our government, at all levels, as well as minimizing the power and effect which those at the extreme ends of any political spectrum have on our government.  This is crucial if we are to return our government to a rational level of moderation.

As a general change for ALL elected offices, no one would be allowed to campaign for one office while they are holding another.  If people think that such an allowance is necessary, they could be allowed to run for as MANY offices at one time as they want, but they have to be campaigning on their own time (they, of course, could only accept election to one office if they should win more than one election at the same time… if they do win more than one, though, maybe they should have to pay for any special elections which they necessitate by winning an office they have intention of serving in).  Since all elected officials are elected to serve their constituents by doing a specific job, and not to spend their time on that job trying to keep their current job or trying to get a new one at our expense, once a public office holder is officially a candidate for any national office (the point at which they start raising funds or operating a campaign), they will be REQUIRED to immediately resign any elected office, at ANY level, that they might hold at that time.  This would also help keep the lengths of campaigns down to more reasonable amounts of time as elected officials would be less likely to give up an office in their hand too long before they run for the office in the bush that they want to seek.

Section 2 of Article I lays the groundwork for the composition of The House of Representatives.  Paragraph 1 of Section 2 sets the term of office for members of the House of Representatives at 2 years.  I would change this to 6 year terms, with one third of The House being elected every three years and a one term limit.  This would allow an on-going House with regular turnover and without the turmoil of having to elect ever member of The House and recreating itself every election cycle.  Former Representatives could be elected to additional terms by the people of any particular state that they have served when they have been out of The House for the length of a full term between each term.

Paragraph 2 sets the minimum age for eligibility for election as a Representative at 25.  I would lower this to 20, although with the requirement that being a Representative is a full time job (i.e.  – if someone is a student and is elected, they would have to leave their studies for the duration of their term of office).  We allow citizens to vote at age 18, we let them serve in our military, we require them to pay taxes (which they have to do at ANY age when they earn any money), etc., there is no reason that citizens of that age should not be allowed to elect Representatives of their own age range if they are able to.

Paragraph 3 of Section 2 deals with apportionment of Representatives among the various states.  As we have seen all too frequently, the abilities of modern computing to pinpoint every voter has given the supposedly forbidden practice of gerrymandering an even more frightening and insidious power than it has had in a long time.  That same computing power can allow us to create congressional districts that are of the most compact size and even shape as possible without ANY regard to the politics, or any other discriminating factor, of the citizens of any particular district.  Every state has corners and edges.  All that would have to be done is to program the same computers to start at each corner and create evenly shaped and compact districts as they work in towards the middle of each state.  Alternatively, the first district could start in the middle of a state and work outward.  This would still allow for differing proposals, depending on starting points and merging points, but the test would still be which proposal presents the most precise and evenly shaped districts possible.  Basically, if districts can be created within a smaller or more compact area of a state, you go for the most compact districts possible.  This would not only prevent the parties from manipulating districts in the way that is most advantageous to them, it will prevent them from creating both ‘safe‘ districts (which protect members of either party), and ‘reservation‘ districts (which isolate and limit ethnic voting power overall to specific limited areas).

Paragraph 3 also provides for the total number of Representatives the House.  Its original provision of “The number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty Thousand, but each State shall have at Least one Representative;” has been modified by legislation passed in 1911, which capped the total number of Representatives in The House at 435.  One man, one vote‘ was NEVER an intention of the founders (as seen by their plan of equal apportionment of Senators, the guarantee of at least one Representative from each state, and the fact that Congressional districts must be fully contained within their home state) because it was never their desire to allow high population areas to dominate the government at the expense of the rural areas by the simple fact of having more people.  However, it was also not their intention to let rural areas have excessive power by limiting the numbers of Representatives to be divided among the more populous states.  As was seen when Alaska and Hawaii entered the union (the total number of members in Congress was temporarily increased by one for each state UNTIL the next apportionment, at which time it was returned to the 435 Representatives level), the current total is seen as a hard and fast one which is not increased by the admission of additional states.  As a result, with each shift in population and a theoretical continuous expansion of the numbers of states in the Union, the single Representative for the states with the smallest population increase in their own proportional power within Congress.  To counter this, I would propose that the total number of Representatives be equal to ten times the total number of states.  This would mean that every time a new state is admitted, ten Representatives will be added to the total number of Representatives in The House.  Right now, that would result in a total of 500 Representatives, with 50 being taken by guaranteed representation for each state and the other 450 apportioned according to state population sizes.

Paragraph 4 deals with vacancies within The House while Paragraph 5 creates the office of Speaker and allows for The House to create and choose its other officers.  The only change I would make here is that ANY officer of The House (or The Senate) has a responsibility to the nation, as a whole, as well as to their own district’s constituency.  As such, ALL officers of The House or The Senate, from any party, must equally accept feedback, requests, petitions, etc.  from anyone within the nation as they do from anyone within their district.

Section 3 of Article I deals with The Senate.  Paragraph 1 sets the length of term for a Senator at six years.  As with the House, I would increase the lengths of their terms of office to twelve years, with a limit of one term and the passage of a length of time equal to one full term before they can be eligible to run again within their state.  For those of my readers who have caught some of my specific wordings, by the way, these limits would only apply to a candidate in a single particular state if they want to run again in that state.  If someone thinks that they can just pack up and move to another state to get elected again, they would be welcome to try it.  I would love to see the spectacle of hordes of former Congressmen moving constantly between states while trying to convince the voters of their ‘new‘ home states that they are not carpetbaggers who are only looking out for themselves rather than for the citizens that they purport to serve.

Paragraph I also sets the numbers of Senators from each state at two.  I would increase this to three for each state so that every state will have an election turnover of one Senator for every equal third of a term (i.e.  – every four years), which is what is dealt with in Paragraph 2.  Paragraph 3 sets the minimum age of a Senator at 35.  As with The House, I would lower this age by five years to 25 in order to increase the chances for better representation of the younger population of the nation.

Paragraph 4 of Section 3 deals with the role of The Vice President as the President of The Senate.  While I will deal with the larger issue of the office of Vice President when I discuss The Executive Branch, the primary constitutional duty of a Vice President is to be President of The Senate.  This office needs to be a functional part of our government.  [Please see my article on ‘The American Vice Presidency…  Graveyard of the Constitution’.]  While I would still give The Vice President no vote in The Senate except in cases of ties, I would give the office political power in The Senate equal to that of The Speaker in The House.  I would also give The Vice President the freedom to address The Senate under the same rules as any Senator, but with the provision that they must temporarily give up the Presidency of The Senate while speaking on the floor, and maybe with the additional restriction that they must ask the permission of The Senate to be allowed to speak to it from the floor.

Paragraph 5 of Section 3 provides for the creation and selection of other officers for The Senate, including The President pro tempore.  My biggest issue with how Section 5 is fulfilled is that The President pro tempore, the third person in line to the office of President of The United States, has become a meaningless ego job which is simply given to the oldest, most senile member of the majority party.  This Constitutional office needs to be held by the person elected by the whole Senate to be its Floor Leader.  Tell me, honestly, would you have wanted to see a 99 year-old Strom Thurmond succeeding to The Presidency?  What about an 84 year-old Ted Stevens?  Or a 92 year-old Robert Byrd?  The President pro tempore should be the Senator who is leading the legislative agenda on the floor of The Senate, not the one singing ‘I’m a Little Teapot‘ with the Spectre of Death.

 

(This article will be continued in Part III (b), which will continue discussing Article I of The Constitution.)

Rhys M.  Blavier
Romayor, Texas

 

Truth, Justice and Honor… but, above all, Honor

 

© copyright 2009 by Rhys M.  Blavier
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Thank you for reading this article.  Please read my other articles and let me know what you think.  I am writing them not to preach or to hear myself think but to try to create dialogs, debates and discussions on the nature of our government and how we can build upon and improve it based on what we have seen and learned over the course of the 225 years of The American Experiment.

HOW I THINK THE CONSTITUTION CAN BE FIXED (Part II: The Preamble)

In Activism, Congress, Constitutional Rights, Democracy, History, Law, Libertarian, Libertarian Politics, Military, Politics, US Government, War on May 26, 2009 at 8:00 am

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

At 53 words (1.15% of the total words in The Constitution), The Preamble to The Constitution of The United States is, not counting any of the Amendments, the shortest section of The Constitution after Article VII (Ratification). It has never, to my knowledge, ever been used as a basis for any constitutional court case, or for any decision (majority, dissenting, or separate) made by The Supreme Court. The Preamble is essentially considered to be the ‘pretty words’ before the ‘actual’ Constitution. That is kind of like seeing it as a short, light poetry reading for entertainment purposes before the start of the ‘real business’ part of the program. I think that such a view is a tragic mistake.

First of all, The Preamble is fully a part of The Constitution, written with it and subjected to the same ratification process as every other part of The Constitution was. It is a shame, at best, and short-sighted, at worst to not give it the same respect and standing as every other part of The Constitution. For example, for the hawks and for those in the Bush administration, it provides the best justification in the entirety of The Constitution for their aggressive military views and focus on defense issues (“We the People of the United States, in Order to…, provide for the common defence). In my view, the ‘Commander-in-Chief” clause (which I will talk about in my part of this article which will deal with Article II – The Executive Branch) does NOT give the Executive Branch the power or authority that it wants to claim under that clause. Their best arguments can be made using the relevant words in The Preamble.

Unfortunately, for those same hawks and those conservatives who are against progressive social policies, if they want to use the ‘common defence’ wording of The Preamble upon which to build a case, they must also concede equal standing to all of the other provisions of The Preamble. To me, The Preamble is an active part of The Constitution which establishes objectives which our government under The Constitution is obligated to strive to try to achieve. I will discuss this idea in more detail in the part of the article which will deal with Article I (The Legislative Branch) but, briefly goals and objectives are the same as strategies and tactics. Objectives / tactics are the broad, general, rather nebulous overarching purpose of something which cannot be quantifiably measured or ever be truly achieved… we will make the world a better place, we will create a more perfect union, we will explore space, we will end sickness and disease, etc.… these are all objectives. You cannot measure them, you cannot quantify them, you can ONLY work towards them. What helps you work towards achieving your objectives / tactics are your goals / strategies. Goals / strategies are the specific, quantifiable and measurable and specifically achievable progress points which are established as as ways to help us achieve our objectives / strategies … we will reach the moon by the end of the decade, we will give the vote to eighteen year-olds, we will defeat Hitler, we will wipe out smallpox, etc…. these are all goals.

For my section on the Legislature, I will advocate, and give my rationale for making goals and objectives a specific part of the legislative process. For this section on The Preamble, I will simply say that it is where I see the founders listing the objectives which they wanted us to work towards. To me, this makes The Preamble one of the, if not the, single most important parts of the entire Constitution. All that WE need to do is pay attention to it and give it the same respect and standing that we give to any and every other part of The Constitution.

The lack of consideration given to The Preamble is yet another shining example of what I see as the base hypocrisy of those who cry and scream that The Constitution needs to be read literally and without interpretation (the second part of which is, of course, impossible) but do not practice what they demand. The Preamble is just as much a part of The Constitution as any other part is. It was subjected to the same ratification procedure and cannot be changed without such changes going through the same amendment procedure as any other changes to The Constitution would have to go through.

The only change that I would make with regards to The Preamble would not be to change any of its words, it would be to change what respect and legal standing we give those words among our other laws and constitutional provisions.

Rhys M. Blavier

Romayor, Texas

Truth, Justice and Honor… but, above all, Honor

© copyright 2009 by Rhys M. Blavier
________________________________________________________________________________________

Thank you for reading this article. Please read my other articles and let me know what you think. I am writing them not to preach or to hear myself think but to try to create dialogs, debates and discussions on the nature of our government and how we can build upon and improve it based on what we have seen and learned over the course of the 225 years of The American Experiment.