A Truly Federal System   Leave a comment

You know how it is with a new idea!

Increasing the size of the House of Representatives is my new shiny object.

Husband Brad wasn’t convinced that increasing the size of Congress by any amount would really help anything. He was of the opinion that it would create a zoo-like atmosphere. Then I told him about New Hampshire.

Brad hasn’t lived in New Hampshire for a very long time. He’s been an Alaskan for more than half of his life and passed into Pioneer status last summer. But we always have a little bit of loyalty to our home town (or home state).

“Live Free or Die” is New Hampshire’s motto and my own experience in visiting Brad’s family there is that there is a higher-percentage of free-thinking people living there than in nearby states. Why? Logically, you would think that New Hampshiremen would not have substantially different politics than, say, Vermont or Massachusetts, but that isn’t the case. New Hampshire scores high in the freedom indices. Why?

New Hampshire’s 1.2 million citizens are represented by 400 legislators in the lower house of the state legislature. Yes, the entire 300+ million population of America is represented by only 435 representatives.

For comparison’s sake, look at California with a population of 34 million. New Hampshire’s population is about equal to the city of San Deigo (for comparison). California (the largest population state in the union) has 80 legislative districts. If New Hampshire were to follow California’s example, the lower house of the state legislature would have about 30 representatives instead of 400. The average house district in California represents more than 400,000 people, while the average house district in New Hampshire represents only 3,096. Alaska, btw, has 40 representatives in the lower legislative house, representing about 18,000 people in each district.

The organization Thirty Thousand, which advocates for a return to the original structure for representation in Congress, looked at a number of individual liberties and compared states according to population and number of representatives in their state houses. They looked at state fiscal policy, regulatory burden, economics freedoms, and personal liberties for their analysis. They grouped states as least-free, medium-free and most-free based on these indices. Looking at 15 different freedom indices (from three different reports), they found that in every case, the average district size of the least-free states was significantly larger than that of the most-free states. The average district size of the least-free states was 73,136, which was substantially larger than the most-free states at 45,842. That’s a 60% difference.

The most-free states were New Hampshire, Colorado, South Dakota, Idaho and Texas. The least-free states were Maryland, California, Rhode Island, New Jersey and New York. Alaska didn’t make it into the most-free states group because of the size of our state government and the regulatory burden mostly coming from our colonial relationship with the federal government.

Brad still thinks 60,000 representatives for the federal government might be too many. I tend to agree in theory. A Congress of that size would need to structure itself along some sort of federated system because there is no way they could all meet in one location at one time.

But think about what it would mean? Here is Alaska, we’d have 15 representatives. Don’t get me wrong. Don Young is a responsive Congressman, but he represents more than 700,000 people. Of course, he can’t represent us all. He’s a riverboat captain and teacher from Ft. Yukon. If he hadn’t been in Congress for four decades, what sort of common ground would he have with a business owner in Anchorage? Shouldn’t Anchorage be represented by someone who understands what living in Anchorage is all about? Shouldn’t Fairbanks or Nome get the same respect? And, when I cast my vote, shouldn’t I have had some opportunity to have met this candidate for something more than a handshake? Wouldn’t I feel better about that vote if I didn’t have to rely on what I can glean from advertisements and a few radio interviews?

And, no! It’s not a magic bullet, but it may well be a step toward a return to individual liberty. At least it is doing something rather than just watching the train wreck.

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