How California Can Really Save the Republic

(Disclosure: this post is a little off-topic for this blog.  Although I am completely serious, this is just a quick post rather than an in-depth explanation.  Still, it would be great if it can ignite the change.)

All of us are still wrestling with what a Trump victory means for the country, not to mention our individual interests.  One theme that has emerged is the importance of California and all that we represent.  In a joint statement from California's legislative leaders, the writers stated that "California has long set an example for other states to follow....California was not a part of this nation when its history began, but we are clearly now the keeper of its future."

Aside from the silly "Calexit" chatter, most of the focus has been on casting California as the shining "City Upon a Hill" for a modern America, a place where a "pluralistic and democratic society" can thrive.  But no one has really gotten into what that means.  It's easy to imagine these efforts occurring within the current federalist paradigm, passing state legislation to counteract any federal efforts.  And there is nothing wrong with that.

But what if more can be done?  As some of my previous posts may make clear, I think the first consideration when thinking about any problem has to be an analysis of the institutions.  So what should we look at when trying to figure out the problem of Trump? The biggest problem I see is that few have accepted, beyond the current uproar over the Electoral College, that American democracy is doomed as Matt Yglesias explains in a post on Vox.com.  Yglesias explains it much better than I will, but the overall problem is that our presidential democracy with a bicameral legislature, wherein one chamber is granted undemocratic power vested in small states, is unworkable over a long enough time frame.  With so many checks and balances, stalemates are becoming increasingly common.  And when government is dysfunctional because of Republican obstructionism, the "small government" Republicans can point to the ineffectiveness of government as a reason to distrust it and shrink it even more.  In this positive feedback loop, crisis is almost assuredly inevitable. As the last decade demonstrates, there is little hope for progress in the face of enormous obstacles.  

If California really wants to show the way to the future, we need to ditch the idea of an executive system of government and amend the California Constitution to create a parliamentary system.  For about 50 years, we have been a third of the way there.  As originally created, California had a legislature modeled after the federal system: an 80-member Assembly of roughly equal districts and a 40-member Senate with representation for each county, regardless of size.  In 1964, however, the Supreme Court decided that state legislatures of this model were unconstitutional because they violated the "one person, one vote" principle by diluting the voting power of those in populous counties!  Since that time, both our Assembly and Senate districts are apportioned based on population to ensure roughly equal representation.  In effect, we have two chambers with no obvious distinction to justify their dual existence.  I cannot imagine why we have two chambers other than a dedication to our historic norms.  The real world effect is a waste of millions of dollars to maintain the Senate and even more veto points to slow down progress.  It's ridiculous.

One easy solution would be to simply dissolve the State Senate.  But let's go even further and create a full-bore parliament: a single 140-member Assembly, with one member assuming the role of Prime Minister of California and other "executive" positions appointed from those elected to the Assembly.  The real world effect?  In California, it wouldn't be that different.  The Democrats would still control the state government.  Our new Prime Minister probably wouldn't be that different than any Governor.  All of our existing laws and principles could continue unchanged beyond simple wording.

But there are also several benefits: the ability for third parties to exist (as is often the case in parliaments, where smaller parties can represent the extremes of political ideologies and ethic minorities); smaller districts (by eliminating the overlap between current Assembly and Senate seats to create more direct representation); simpler elections for voters (just vote for your assemblywoman, no need to select an assemblymember AND a senator AND a governor AND a lieutenant governor, etc.); fewer veto points to slow down new laws; and if the model proves successful, a chance to prevent the collapse of our country.

There is a reason that nearly every other developed, democratic nation has a parliamentary system rather than a presidential system: it is more efficient and lessens the likelihood of an authoritarian takeover. It is nearly impossible for Donald Trump to become the Prime Minister of the United States.  If California really wants to lead the way, let us introduce a new form of governance to the United States,  not merely a variation on the same theme that is failing us at the national level.  Then we can really be a beacon to the future.