The right to choose your government.

Personal Legislators — A Panarchy Proposal

What I am about to propose here is not technically panarchy, but a move towards panarchy. It is an attempt to move toward personal government, while at the same time attempting to address some of the inadequacies of legislatures everywhere, with specific regard to the legislatures of the US state and federal governments.

Every legislature, at least those generally referred to as the “lower” house or chamber, such as the US House of Representatives, is comprised of members from districts. Each district has an election, from which emerges one winner. Once elected, they tend to ignore the people who elected them, or so it often seems, being much more responsive to lobbyists of special interests. Part of this comes from the fact that they often wish to get reelected, which costs lots of money, which is where the lobbyists and their deep-pocketed supporters come in. Clout in such a legislature generally comes largely from seniority. As for your having any clout with the legislator from your district, that generally is limited to calling or writing him, perhaps with a threat of voting for someone else next time. You will certainly get a polite letter back, clearly boilerplate, with his opposing view, and why it is ever-so-much better than yours, and that’s the end of that. Your preferred candidate may have been one of those who lost in the election. But even if your guy won, he may only represent your views and values to a limited degree. Very likely, however, there is a legislator from another district with whom you share a great many more values.

Wouldn’t it be great then to make their legislator, the one you really agree with, YOUR legislator, your PERSONAL legislator. This is what I am suggesting. In addition to the election by district, we should also have a second election for each legislature, where you choose your personal legislator, the one that really represents what you think. You could make your choice known at any time (many methods would work here, so I won’t go into that now). Then, on a certain day each year, the votes are tallied so that each legislator finds out how many people have chosen him as their personal legislator. What good is this, you ask? The real value comes in this: that each legislator who gets at least one percent of the total votes cast in this second election, gets to determine how that percentage of the budget for the year is spent on various programs. So, not only do they vote up or down on each bill brought before the legislature, but they work with other supporters of bills, allocating funds according to their values, as well as the values of those citizens who voted for them in the second election. Since each such personal legislator must have at least one percent of the votes from the second election, there can be at most one hundred such legislators in any particular legislature. These super legislators, by virtue of the value they have in the eyes of the electorate, are excused from the next cycle of elections, assuming that they retain that percentage in the final year of their term. One thing this does is make them less dependent on constantly raising money for elections, which means they can be less beholden to the lobbyists and special interests, and far more beholden to the people whose vote for them can change at any moment. Unlike those facing election in their districts (because they did not get or keep at least one percent of the votes), they are not concerned with merely winning a plurality of votes. Rather, they are always looking to get a greater share of those votes, thus raising their own prestige and power in the legislature. But to do this, they must provide something that government has been woefully poor at providing thus far: value. Yes, they get to spend the taxpayers money. But they will not keep the votes that allow them to do that unless the electorate sees results from the programs they support.

One last thing. If the legislator manages to not spend the entire amount allotted to him in a given year, he may refund 50% of what is left over back to those who had voted for him (as of the cutoff date), giving them one more reason to be happy they chose him as their personal legislator!

All right, my fellow panarchists! I’ve laid this out for you. Now its your turn. Let’s get some comments submitted here, especially if you see some weaknesses in this proposal.


2010/01/28 - Posted by | Uncategorized

1 Comment »

  1. I received by email several responses to my recent article on Personal Legislators. The one that seemed to me to contain the best analysis of the proposal, expressed with wonderful succinctness, was from Adam Knott, which I reproduce in its entirety here:

    I read through your idea a couple of times.

    Here is my idea and suggestion, based on what I believe is your primary insight.

    Here is the main idea:

    “Wouldn’t it be great then to make their legislator, the one you really agree with, YOUR legislator, your PERSONAL legislator.”

    What is this idea, essentially?

    I believe it is the panarchist idea to take the legislative system we have now (e.g., the 500+ congressmen), and separate the voting for congressmen from territory.

    What you are suggesting is to modify the existing system, or parts of that system, so that voting is divorced from territory. But in your essay, I don’t think you focus on this aspect enough.

    What you are arguing is that out of the 500+ congressmen, there are likely ones we agree with much more than the 2 or 3 we can choose from in any given election. Therefore, why not keep the system we have now (the congressional system for example), but simply employ a nonterritorial voting system rather than a territorial voting system ??

    Then, the funds collected from taxes can be apportioned to each congressman, according to the votes he/she receives. Then, the spending of the funds will more greatly reflect the values of the electorate.

    I think if you just make this simple point, you will have made an important point, and you will have also made a panarchist argument. An argument definitely along panarchist lines of moving politics away from its association with territory, and towards greater harmony between government and the governed.

    I think your idea has this idea in it. But I think you could highlight this aspect more, and make it more noticeably a panarchist idea.

    Sincerely, Adam

    I think Adam got the gist if what I was saying, but I will try to clarify my intentions even more in a subsequent article.

    Comment by Dwight Johnson | 2010/01/31 | Reply

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