Law

Would a Bigger Legislature Mean a Smaller Government for California?

It's probably true that there is no magic ratio of legislators to constituents. Still, do Californians need more representation?

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There are 80 seats in the California Assembly and 40 seats in the California Senate. The last time the Golden State adjusted the size of its legislature, in 1862, there were about 400,000 people living there. Today, more than twice that number live within the city limits of San Francisco alone.

With a population of nearly 40 million, California's state legislative districts are the largest in the country. Since voters in the state send 53 representatives to the U.S. House of Representatives, the state's upper chamber is one of just two (the Texas Senate is the other) where members represent more people than does the average member of Congress.

The seemingly out-of-whack ratio of legislators to constituents has resulted in an accumulation of power by the state's executive branch and has diluted the electoral power of rural areas and political minorities, according to Michael Warnken, a California-based libertarian activist who is part of a group that's trying to get federal courts to force the state to add more seats to the state legislature. "It's impossible for the people of California to have a relationship with their state lawmakers," he says.

In turn, the expansion of executive power has given such agencies as the California Air Resources Board and the California Coastal Commission outsized authority to unilaterally write regulations that should fall within the legislature's purview.

Putting voters back in charge of the state government requires having more representatives in Sacramento, activists argue. Their lawsuit was launched by a coalition that includes the California Libertarian Party, the Marin County Green Party, a group of Native Americans, and secessionists who have sought for years to form a new state, Jefferson, out of portions of northern California and southern Oregon. Former federal judge Alex Kozinski is helping litigate the case.

The effort faces an undeniably daunting path forward, in part because courts have been generally unwilling to adjudicate questions of political representation. (The same reluctance has stymied legal efforts to restrict gerrymandering, the practice of drawing legislative districts to benefit one political party over another.) But the activists pushing for more representation in California's legislature argue that the state's current legislative framework disenfranchises minorities, including Native Americans and Hispanics—a claim that has convinced federal courts to intervene in gerrymandering cases—as well as anyone who lives outside the state's population centers.

A federal district court tossed the case in 2018, but the activists are now appealing to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, with oral arguments likely to occur later this year or in early 2020. A victory there could send the case back to the lower court for a hearing on the merits.

The state is again trying to get the case dismissed. "Even if a federal court possessed the authority to increase the number of state legislative districts in California, there are no judicially discernible and manageable standards" for deciding how many seats are appropriate, attorneys for Alex Padilla, California's secretary of state, argued in a brief filed in August.

It's probably true that there is no magic ratio of legislators to constituents, and American states are all over the board when it comes to representation. New Hampshire has a whopping 400 members in its lower chamber, one for every 3,400 residents. To match that ratio, California would need more than 11,000 seats in its state Assembly.

But there is some evidence that more representation results in more limited government. A 1999 study by economists Mark Thornton and Marc Ulrich found that "smaller legislatures result in larger constituencies, poorer representation, and higher levels of government spending per capita."

This is hardly the first attempt to radically alter the relationship between California's people and their government. Proposals for breaking up the state go back as far as 1855. In this decade, an effort backed by venture capitalist Tim Draper to split California into six separate states nearly qualified for the ballot.

Could a better remedy to California's problems be to adjust the number of lawmakers to compensate for more than a century of wild population growth? At the very least, a smaller legislator-to-constituent ratio allows for local issues to get a hearing in state politics.

"A static number of representatives and a growing population does what to our vote?" Warnken asks, rhetorically.

"It steals it."

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  1. a California-based libertarian activist who is part of a group that’s trying to get federal courts to force the state to add more seats to the state legislature.

    That doesn’t sound very libertarian to me.

    1. If we made everyone a civil “servant” they wouldnt compete to be the most vocally crazy or something.

    2. Seems like one of those things that is neither libertarian nor un-libertarian. Local control is a practical mechanism, not a core principle.

    3. Not very federalist, I could understand.

      But what’s un-libertarian about it?

      1. Using the federal government to force a state to change how it chooses to govern? Very unlibertarian. The people of CA should be the ones to decided how large their legislature should be. That they haven’t reached the same conclusion as a ‘libertarian activist’ is no reason to find a bigger bully to make them change their mind.

        1. California residents did select how they wanted to be represented in 1926 via Prop 28. It was the Federal Govt through SCOTUS that modified our representation in 1964 in Reynolds v Sims. The feds effed it, they should help in putting it back.

  2. California should make all CA citizens legislators.

    And make it a felony to move out of the state, thus saving the rest of us from their destructive presence.

  3. At the very least, a smaller legislator-to-constituent ratio allows for local issues to get a hearing in state politics.

    No, it doesn’t.

    Yes, the fewer constituents per legislator, the more responsive individual legislators are. But the more legislators in a legislature, the less responsive the legislature is to any individual legislator. It’s not like multiplying the number of legislators by ten allows ten times more legislating get done; the floor vote schedule is still a single queue. Local issues won’t get any more a hearing because the individual legislators won’t be heard.

    The only way to increase the responsiveness of a legislature to constituents is to reduce the number of constituents per legislature.

    1. the more legislators in a legislature, the less responsive the legislature is to any individual legislator. It’s not like multiplying the number of legislators by ten allows ten times more legislating get done;

      That assumes the only way to measure the responsiveness of a legislature is by weighing the volume of final legislation they produce. The original observation is whether local issues get a hearing in state politics. There are many ways that local issues/perspectives gain voice – questions/speeches/amendments/investigations in everything from subcommittee to full assembly.

      from their website – the current assembly of 80 members is organized into 32 committees covering standing functions (eg budget, transport, education, judiciary, etc) and 53 select/temporary committees. Looking at one of the standing committees (education), there are 7 elected members and 5 staffers. They appear to (publicly) meet about 9 days/year to consider bills, 4 days/year to gather info, and they haven’t met in 6 years to do oversight. I doubt they could meet more often simply because the assembly is too small and those members are already spread too thin over the number of different functions. Nor could they subdivide into subcommittees – cause the assembly is too small and those would only spread the assembly even thinner.

      Even superficially this is just mindblowingly corrupt and weak. I don’t see how anyone could even argue that CA has ‘a republican form of govt’ anymore. It’s an oligarchy where the full-time bureaucrats in the executive depts run the govt unchecked.

      1. Even superficially this is just mindblowingly corrupt and weak. I don’t see how anyone could even argue that CA has ‘a republican form of govt’ anymore. It’s an oligarchy where the full-time bureaucrats in the executive depts run the govt unchecked.

        Hence the complete idiocy of CA legislation. Any wonder why it has horrible school systems?

  4. What the hell – it’s only California.

    1. Too bad this isn’t really the case: at the federal level, we have the same problem, thanks to the Permanent Apportionment Act of 1935. The House of Representatives was constitutionally set at one member for thirty thousand people. (after an original proposal of forty thousand was deemed too small by Washington and others). Now we have Montana with one representative for *994,000+ people*, while Rhode Island has a ratio closer , 528,000 (rounded up ). The balance of power is shifted by this, and IMO, not by accident.

  5. “…and has diluted the electoral power of rural areas and political minorities”

    But of course, the political minorities that generally live in rural areas are exactly the type of people who Progressives think should have their electoral power diluted anyway, so what’s the problem?

  6. We need to continue to build the wall on our Southern border from East to West and making a hard right turn at the Colorado River.

  7. I took a tour of the California capital, and damn is it small. Big building, but the senate and assembly chambers are tiny. So tiny there’s no room for observers. So tiny the tiny desks for each assemblyman are crammed in, only enough room on them for a laptop and vote button. Truly tiny.

    So there’s no room for more legislators in that building.

    But right across the street is a very room convention center. Converting it to see a thousand legislators would be a snap.

    1. These days, you wouldn’t even need a single legislature building to house everyone. With teleconferencing, you could have everyone call in from their local office.

      For that matter, this is friggin’ California. We could have all the legislators meet in VR if you think the ability to walk up to someone is important.

  8. Interesting how there’s still a general understanding here that concentrated power = authoritarian rule. I was surprised how many NPV supporters I’ve seen here and I feel like the sentiments should be the same on both issues.

    Jefferson needs to secede though. Even if they were given fair districts, it’s not like their reps would have any clout in such a blue state. It’s clear that their needs are distinct and not met by state of CA and they can’t keep living as second class citizens just because it’s uncomfortable or scary to secede from a state.

    1. Until ‘Jefferson’ can propose basic sound governance reform as an alternative to the existing CA clusterfuck, they are incompetent to be a state. Californians are absolutely and almost without exception the most incompetent stupidest people at self-governance on the planet. If they are whining merely about losing votes, that is less significant than a child in the backseat whining that they gotta go peepee.

      IF ‘Jefferson’ actually proposes basic sound governance reform that indicates they’ve bought a clue – and it fails and fails to pass, then they should apply to be a state.

      1. Yeah, people have talked about it plenty dude…

        If they become their own state they’ll just set up a state government that looks like every other… The difference is it will end up looking more like the government of Idaho or Utah than that of California or New York.

        As with plenty of other smaller, more rural states, they’d do just fine.

        1. If they become their own state they’ll just set up a state government that looks like every other. The difference is it will end up looking more like the government of Idaho or Utah than that of California or New York.

          You got the order wrong. They are going to have to set up a de facto state govt first. AND then make enough of an effective stink inside CA (without appearing obviously turdish to everyone else in the country) so that CA would welcome them becoming a separate state. AND then indicate to Congress that in fact their bid for statehood is not just partisan loyalist DeRp and the usual entitled whininess of immature self-absorbed Californians.

          They can’t do all that while chewing gum. Easier to just whine.

          1. Are you joking?

            That is completely ass backwards, and not how such things generally have gone in the past.

            They would need to convince people to do it (which will never happen because the pols in Cali want to control the other parts of the state, and limit their representation at the federal level), have the vote setting the separation date at some point in the future. Then they can begin to setup the mechanisms of government, have elections, etc. Then on the day it comes into effect it will all gain legal power and be done.

            You can’t just elect a governor, legislature, etc up front before anything has been approved or you have any way to pay for it etc, and then decree we DEMAND to be split! Such acts would probably be considered insurrection you ‘tard!

            Not that Cali as a whole, or at least SF on south ought not to split from the USA… But in the context of splitting up states within the current USA that just ain’t how it would work. Anyone with a brain should see that.

  9. I doubt a court case is gonna succeed, but the “how” aside, sounds like a good idea to me.

  10. *better* legislature. start w/less.

  11. We’re too big to be a part of the United States. We should secede from them and let Arkansas stockpile guns and praise Jeebus. Much better.

    1. Even if they seceded, they’d want to set policy for the rest of the country.

  12. Would a Bigger Legislature Mean a Smaller Government for California?

    No. Next question.

  13. Why does almost every state legislature have two chambers? I understand the reason for the US Congress to have two chambers (and it made even more sense when the legislature could appoint senators) and even the UK Parliament (historically, that is. They could do away with the House of Lords and leave the government largely unchanged).

    But it makes no sense in most states. In any given state, each chamber has districts based on population. Some states do stagger the senate terms like the US Senate, but others have terms of equal length to the lower house terms and start at the same time.

    This tends to cause a lot of waste in government though duplication (both houses consider similar bills simultaneously, but ultimately only one, if any, will pass) and forcing conference committees to come up with compromises that are bloated.

    Of course, none of this addresses the serious problem that the rules in most legislatures put the power into the hands of a few senior leaders. There’s always a bill to repeal some unpopular law that will never see the light of day because the speaker makes sure it never hits the legislative calendar.

    1. Why does almost every state legislature have two chambers?

      Because they copied the structure of the US Constitution without giving it much thought at all. This ‘fake bicameralism’ was actually at the heart of one of the SC decisions re one-man-one-vote.

    2. A genuine parallel would be, for example, having each county get one senate seat regardless of the population of the county.
      Now that would give some meaningful representation to folks in the hinterlands

      1. That ‘genuine parallel’ doesn’t exist. ‘Counties’ are entirely a line-on-the-map creation of the state legislature. Legally nothing more than a franchise or branch office. There is in fact nothing that a critter would be protecting from encroachment. Further, in every case I’ve seen of something similar the goal of advocates is to limit the legal independence of other counties not to protect theirs from encroachment. Notably – this is how Jim Crow worked to eliminate the possibility of any legal changes to Jim Crow. Until the SC ruled in case like Reynolds v Sims.

        In practice, the only states that have eliminated the Dillon Rule (which says all lower level governance is a grant from the state legislature), adopted full home-rule (chartered under the state constitution), and where some counties have themselves chosen ‘home-rule’ status are Oregon (9 of 36 counties), New Mexico (1 county), probably most of Iowa. Everywhere else, counties don’t want actual self-governance. What they voice is just urban-rural or partisan DeRp. Munis are the ones who want home-rule – and legislatures are the ones who restrict that.

        Maybe it’s time for the US as a whole to have a big ‘statehood divorce party’. Where states that have irreconcilable differences can apply to convert to a federal territory and then reapply to convert to separate statehood.

    3. In truth, even a totally useless and random setup like most states have still helps a little… Just the randomness factor alone really. One chamber might have 10 surplus votes on something, but if the other is 1 shy it doesn’t become law.

      But yeah, staggering terms, or doing something else that made sense would make more sense. A lot of them tend to have fewer senators, which switches up the population voting for the different roles slightly, which introduces a little variance.

  14. I have a better idea, let’s all vote California out of the Union

    1. We REALLY just need to encourage them to leave, and then let them actually do it. We should throw western Oregon and Washington into the deal too, because they’re just as gone.

  15. Reps rep themselves at the expense of rights, justice, freedom.
    More reps won’t change that. Less won’t change that. Elimination of all reps will change politics if it comes as a result of individual self-government. However, the mass worship of force, i.e., initiated or threatened, must also be repudiated. This would be the end of war and tyranny.

  16. The lack of representation for rural areas in the CA state senate is a result of a deliberate wrongful act which the group soj51.com is still trying to overturn after 60+ years.

    California’s constitution said then and still says today that the state Senate is supposed to consist of one member from each of California’s 58 counties. This gave us beneficial gridlock for many years: the left controlled the Assembly but the right held the Senate.

    But back in the 50s, Governor Earl Warren decided the city voters were being cheated, so he changed the system by executive order, without any rightful authority. Then the new legislature stalled court challenges to this order for years, so that by the time the state supreme court rubberstamped Warren’s usurpation, Warren had become Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court and successfully voted not to review the case of his own malfeasance.

    We need a new Voting Rights Act to overturn outrages such as this.

    1. Some real news here – is this accurate? So CA changed it’s vote-count method because the city dwellers thought every person (no matter location) should represent a fair-share (Ex. 2-Acres) of the land whether they owned, occupied and lived on it or not.

      City Dwellers, “We have more gangsters than you – so we can represent your land for you”. The evils of Democracy on full display – funny how City Dwellers don’t even acknowledge we are a Republic.

  17. It might help a bit… But nothing short of splitting up the state will get much done.

    A lot of states need to be split up. Oregon and Washington both need to split east and west. All of Washington outside Seattle/King County is being held back big time by the stupid Seattle is voting for.

    Boise was the faster growing city in the US last year… Spokane, WA is a far prettier city naturally speaking, has more cool old buildings, a better urban vibe, yet is only barely growing. This is mainly because anybody with a brain can see the writing on the wall in WA, and knows it is becoming very anti business.

    A ton of states could benefit from splitting up. In many cases making the single massive urban center its own state would make sense. NYC, Chicago, etc plus maybe immediate suburbs as made sense could just become stand alone states, leaving the rest of the state to actually take care of their shit the way they need to.

    But the Dems would never go for it, because in general it would help give representation to those evil conservatives.

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