Friday, June 12, 2009

A True Bicameral System for California

The United States is a republic with democratically elected representatives. Having two senators from each state prevents large states from running over small states. Having representatives elected by population ensures that the large states are proportionately represented. This forces a consensus rather than a majority rules.

California has an assembly as well as a senate with districts determined by population. The only difference between a state senator and an assembly member is the length of the term. In 1968 a Supreme Court decision (Reynolds v. Sims ) stated “one person-one vote.” California changed the system because of this decision, but this was unnecessary if you compare the result to the Supreme Court’s ruling.

Despite being a predominantly liberal state, California does not poll much different than the rest of the country if you take away LA and San Francisco. You just have to drive 15 minutes outside of any major city in California and you see leftover McCain/Palin lawn signs and “Don’t Tread on Me” flags. The rural areas and some suburban areas in California are underrepresented in government and the “majority rule” result is preventing consensus. This is the root of a lot of our problems.

We live in a state where 51% will always be able to dictate to the other 49%. This system polarizes the populous and prevents compromise and debate. There is no need or incentive to hear opposing views or consider the needs of everyone. Every issue turns into a bloodbath and it is an all-or-nothing fight at the polls that will inevitably end up in the courts.

Solution? Amend the state constitution so there is one state senator per county. This would expand the senate to 58 state senators from 40 because there are 58 counties in California. Expand the assembly proportionally to 110 assembly members from the current 80 and have them drawn up by population (as is already done). The additional 30 assembly members will keep the assembly and senate proportionately the same and improve the ratio of constituent to representative. Despite the fact that California’s population has grown exponentially, we have kept the same amount of legislators. Every year your voice is further diluted.

This change back to the original design will force a consensus rather than a majority rule. For example, imagine a bill introduced that requires all water go to incorporated cities with a population of 50,000 or more first and then the rest get their water. In our current “majority rules” situation that bill would pass because most representatives are from or near large towns. If the state had 1 state senator per county, then this bill would make it through the assembly and stop in the senate because the amount of senators from rural counties would outnumber the senators from urban counties. The rural senators would raise concerns about farming and a compromise would be reached that fit everybody’s needs. Consensus.

Push Back:

1) What about the additional cost of government? Each member of the legislature is given $290,000 as a budget plus their pay is around $120,000 for a total of around $410,000 a year. An additional 30 in the assembly and 16 in the senate would be a total of 46 additional legislators. Because we are diluting them by 20 percent, it would make sense that their budget could drop by 20 percent. So the math would be: $410,000 x 46 – 20% = $15,088,000
California’s total amount of inlays to the government is between $85 and $100 BILLION. The additional cost is insignificant.

I realize our state is in and has been in a financial crisis for a while. Spending money is not the problem. The problem is spending money unwisely. Getting back to a true bicameral system and increasing representation to the people as the population grows is wise. It is a lack of consensus that helped bring us to this financial mess and positively changing our government’s fundamentals is a long over due first step.
If you break this down to dollars per person in California it would be an additional $2 per year per person. I would pay an extra $2 a year to set California back on a successful path.

2) Wouldn’t this increase the size of government? Increasing the amount of legislators is not increasing the size of government. The scope of government and the areas in which government is involved will not change. Increasing the amount of legislators technically decreases the size of government because it increases the voice of each citizen.

3) Wouldn’t this result in the over representation of rural areas? Again, the assembly will represent citizens according to population and the senate will represent each county. California’s counties are vastly different in population and culture making representation according to county a must.


  1. There are some serious concerns with your model. For one there are far more rural counties in California than non-rural. This would swing the balance way out of wack, allowing the minority to rule the majority. "Majority rules" as you put it, is a foundation of a democracy. Why is that a bad thing? The In addition you have small counties like Alpine county getting the same power as San Francisco or LA county. That give 1145 people(the pop. of Alpine) the same voting power as approx 11,000,000( LA and San Fran. County). I like the current set up, that way we base it on population as opposed to land area. That makes more sense. Just because someone is from a different county, doesn't mean there interest are different.

  2. There is a 2014 ballot proposition which goes farther: Neighborhood Legislature



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