I don’t think it’s any secret that I have a strong dislike of politicians or of anyone who seeks elected office. In fact, I like to say that my beliefs about politicians are similar to what Groucho Marx said about club membership… I don’t want to vote for anyone who actually wants to be elected.
Call me a cynic but I firmly believe there are only two reasons why people seek elected office:
- To indulge an ego that wants to go on a power trip.
- To personally profit off of the general public.
I don’t believe anyone who says they want to “serve the public” or “give back to the community.” If that were true, and they really wanted to serve the public, there are countless better ways to do it. Here are just a few ideas off the top of my head: join the military, clean up a park, eat paint chips, volunteer at a local public school, volunteer in a homeless shelter, play in traffic, volunteer in an animal shelter, pick up litter, sit in a field and stare at the sun. You get the idea.
I also don’t like that we make it easy for people to become career politicians. Even with my dislike of them, I understand that they are a necessary evil. But that doesn’t mean we should allow anyone to either sit in any one office for 30+ years or bounce from office to office if they become term-limited.
With that said, here are a few thoughts I’ve had about how to fix politics/elected office in America. I’ll admit that not all of these ideas are good ideas or even ideas that are fully fleshed out. And some may contradict each other. But I think they could be a start towards taking away some of the power that politicians have consolidated for themselves.
Elected Officials and Offices
Elected office should be like jury duty or the National Guard. You have a real job but you spend one weekend a month or a few weeks a year serving in elected office. You do what you have to do for your elected office and then go back to your real job.
Elected office should only pay the prevailing federal minimum wage. And only when you are on the clock as an elected official (since you ostensibly have a real job anyway). Better yet, make all elected offices volunteer positions. If you really want to serve the public, do it as a volunteer.
Every office everywhere is term limited. And you can’t serve in different offices consecutively. Meaning, if you are term-limited in one office or you leave an office for any reason, you can’t immediately seek to serve in another office. You have to sit out at least one full term before you can run again for any other office.
All terms for all offices are four years long. If someone leaves office for any reason (resignation, death, impeachment, etc…) someone is elected – not appointed – to fill the remainder of that term only.
All regular elections are held on the first Tuesday of November. That day should be a federal holiday. Or maybe a better idea is to move election day to the first Saturday in November.
Ideally, if all terms are four years long and all elections happen on the first Tuesday or Saturday in November, we’d only need to vote once every four years.
Federal legislators should come from state legislatures. So you’d elect your state legislators and then vote from among that group to fill your federal contingent. Not exactly sure if this would work given that my goal is to only vote once every four years but the idea is to reduce the number of people who actually hold elected office. And voting for federal officials from a pool of state officials would lower the total number of elected officials by 535.
And even if that idea isn’t really feasible, I think we need some way to require that our federal legislators spend the majority of their year in their home districts, traveling to Washington only for brief periods.
If you’ve ever been a lobbyist, you are precluded from serving in elected office. If you’ve ever served in elected office, you are precluded from becoming a lobbyist. Which brings me to…
Donations to politicians can only be made by individuals, not by groups, companies or any sort of organization.
Each individual can only donate $500 per year to each candidate they wish to support.
Individuals can only donate to politicians running for office in the district/area in which they live.
Individuals can only donate to individual people actively running for office.
Individuals can not donate to political parties or groups.
Politicians, or those seeking any elected office, can only raise money during the calendar year in which they seek election. In other words, if you’re hoping to be elected on November 5, 2020, you can only start raising money for that election on January 1, 2020. If you are elected (and it’s your first term) and you already know you’ll want to seek re-election in November of 2024, you can’t begin fund-raising for that re-election campaign until January 1, 2024. You should focus on the office you hold – not on fund-raising.
Similarly, those seeking elected office can only advertise that they are seeking that office beginning on January 1 of the year in which they’ll seek election. There’s no reason for an election cycle to last almost two years.
- accepting money outside of the prescribed fund-raising period or
- accepting more than $500 from any one person or
- accepting any money at all from a group/organization
is banned from holding elected office for a period of no less than 50 years.
A few other thoughts
We need to implement some sort of instant run-off or ranked choice style voting instead of the first-past-the-post system we have now.
It’ll never happen but I’d love a system where the president is always an independent who can rise above partisan politics and serve as an arbitrator (in the generic sense of the word, not the specific definition of the word) of competing positions from the left and the right. Maybe mediator is a better word for what I’d like the president to be.
If I really had my way, we’d eliminate party politics altogether though I admittedly don’t know how we’d pull that off.
The above thoughts are hardly exhaustive. I’m sure there are other ideas I’ve had in the past that I don’t remember right now – I’m trying to write this on my lunch break.
And as I alluded to above, I’m sure there are downsides to all of these ideas. I can already hear the “why is experience valued in every position except elected office” crowd polishing their daggers.
But it’s clear, to me at least, that the system we have is not responsive to the needs of ordinary citizens. Even if just one of these ideas is feasible, it’d be a step closer to having a government that is truly of the people, for the people and by the people.