Who Are All These People on the Ballot? June 7, 2010

Ballots nowadays are crowded with all kinds of names that one has never heard of, for offices one has never heard of. Originally the reason for all this was that these small local offices were closer to “the people” than the national offices. Well, that was fine when “the people” were white male owners of agricultural land. But an urban media-dominated society has flipped the world of the Founding Fathers on its head. Now the people who are most likely to know who all these obscure candidates are for minor offices are people in the local elites, either educational or commercial, and the candidates have to spend money to get name ID among the rest of us, the public, who is faced with the burden of having to judge the character and likely political behavior of people they have mostly never met – it’s like a businessman making hiring decisions out of the phone directory, at worst, and Facebook, at best.

The so called “constitutional” statewide offices in California should become a ticket with the governor, as the Vice Presidency of the United States is with the Presidency. This means each gubernatorial candidate, or his party, would have to choose beforehand the Lieutenant Governor, the Treasurer, the Secretary of State, the Controller, the Insurance Commissioner, and whatever else, and run as a ticket. This would have two advantages. First, we would have advance knowledge of, at least, who the would-be governors wanted to work with. Second, the people would never stand to give up entirely the right to vote on these other constitutional offices and have them appointed after the fact by the Governor.

Judges should not be elected at all. They should be appointed for fixed terms of 12 to 20 years. The idea of judges having to raise money to run for their offices is simply appalling to me. One exception: I would allow for judges to be recalled by public petition and ballot, as in the case of Rose Bird. That I would allow. I confess I would like to make the U. S. Supreme Court serve rotating terms of 12 to 20 years (how about 18 years, so we get a new one every two years?) instead of until they die or voluntarily step down, as it now is. That would add predictability to a system which is already politicized and not likely to get de-politicized.

All other offices, like school board, city council, etc., community college trustees, water board, Board of Equalization (why do we need to vote on that one?) should be made partisan. That way parties could “vet” the candidates for us, the public, as to their character and their likely behavior in regard to public policy. I could see new local political parties forming that never run a statewide or national candidate, being focused on local issues such as reform of redevelopment, scope of authority of local government, methods of taxation, vouchers and tax credits, educational policy, reading methods, what is to be taught about sex, etc. It is very difficult for the average voter to connect a personal name on a ballot to things he cares about, so often as not he leaves it blank.

Do people not want to be bound to political parties? The person, not the party? Well, here is a give back. I think that there is enough media information available concerning the candidates for governor that we could make tolerably informed decisions about them without the help of a political party. I would still require every gubernatorial aspirant to select his choices for all the other constitutional offices, and run as a ticket, even without a party label. Similarly, I think we have enough media attention to the candidates for President of the United States that we can make decisions on them without the help of a political party to vet them for us. There is only one legislative body in the United States, however, that I would be willing to make non-partisan. That is the United States Senate. There is enough media attention on senatorial candidates, because they run statewide, that we can probably make adequate decisions about them. Besides, the United States Senate is a unique body. It is the only legislative body in the country that does not have to be elected by population. They represent states as states. And the article of the Constitution that gives every state two senators is the only one that can never be amended. And they have unusual rules, such as the filibuster, which now means that 60 out of 100, rather than 51 out of 100, votes are required to pass important bills. In such a body, non-partisanship might be a good thing.

The U. S. House of Representatives is elected by smaller districts, and only a few of their members get major attention from the media, especially in large states like California. It needs to stay partisan.

State Senates, of which there are 49, will need to stay partisan. They are not like the U. S. Senate. They do not represent counties or other lesser units of government; they are elected by population, like the “lower houses” of the states, but they often have districts that are twice as large, and terms that are twice as long, as their lower house compatriots. It is interesting, by the way, that since this system was imposed in 1964 as a result of a rather creative reading of the Fourteenth Amendment of 1868 by the Supreme Court, no state has followed Nebraska’s example and gone to a “unicameral” legislature.

That signifies that apparently state senates, even though elected by population, are useful.

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