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Governing reform takes pluralism and compromise

Bo Statham

A reader has challenged me to opine on “a method of changing our current system of government that we could implement to begin a return to the original intent of a constitutional republic.”

I doubt the reader meant one way of changing our “system” so much as reforming how the government works in the 21st century. Otherwise, we would be looking at a constitutional convention, an inherently dangerous course, or adopting many transformative amendments to our existing Constitution, a politically unrealistic task.

But there are numerous things that can be done within our existing system of government to restore its functionality and provide for the general welfare.

Undoubtedly, the first step is to overturn the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which permits corporations to spend unlimited funds on political activity (other than direct contributions to a candidate). The decision is corrupting the political process, allowing the Koch brothers, for example, to spend an announced $880 million on the 2016 election. A constitutional amendment would be required to overturn Citizens United or the Court must reverse the decision, a highly unlikely event in the near term.

The campaign finance system must be reformed. Public financing is the only effective and realistic method to make political office open to all segments of society and promote representative democracy, not oligarchy.

Gerrymandering of political districts has long denied the realty of “one person-one vote,” particularly equitable racial representation. State legislatures must be restrained from drawing distorted election districts, or redistricting authority should be delegated to non-political bodies.

The Senate and House of Representatives operate under rules adopted by each body. Too complicated and arcane to detail here, they provide parliamentary means to obstruct legislation and deny the will of the majority. Only unprecedented constituent pressure could force change, probably another politically unrealistic accomplishment.

Allowing the president to have a line-item veto could save billions of dollars annually, prevent pork barrel spending and deny special interests’ privilege. A constitutional amendment would be required.

Senate terms of six years and two-year terms for members of the House may have been relevant in the early years of our history but now have a corrupting impact. They serve to make a senator, once elected, almost immune to challenge and require representatives to campaign non-stop and discourage five-day work-weeks because members are in their districts. Constitutional amendments should be adopted to provide four-year terms for both houses of Congress.

Obviously missing from this limited list of reforms are recommendations relating to the judicial and executive branches. Those omissions don’t suggest all court decisions, particularly those of the Supreme Court, and all presidential actions are beyond criticism. Rather, it’s the writer’s view shortcomings of judges and presidents are largely matters of judgment and political philosophy, not structural deficiencies. Yes, that means, among other things, judges should have lifetime appointments to preserve judicial independence and presidents must have authority to issue executive orders to act on matters not requiring legislation.

Neither these reforms nor a functioning congress is going to become reality until the electorate sends senators and representatives to Washington who understand government has a legitimate role in society. Governing requires pluralism and acceptance of principled compromise, not single-issue candidates, radical ideologues and anarchists masquerading as public servants.

Bo Statham is a retired lawyer, congressional aid and businessman. He lives in Gardnerville and can be reached at bostatham@me.com.