RCG: Reengineering California Legislature

A Radical Middle Inquiry in the Spirit of James
Madison


One
of the challenges of political reform is that the ‘characters’ are often obscure
concepts like voting methods, legislative procedures, and other matters which
tend to put normal people to sleep. This is further complicated by the fact
that constitutional reform is often literally unthinkable, because most American
have a near-deific regard for the founding
fathers.

But, the framers were human
beings like ourselves. They did a remarkable job considering what they knew at
the time, which is why most of us (wisely) would rather trust their judgement
that re-open the can of worms involved in major reforms. Yet, as The Daily Show‘s Jon Stewart points out in his
insightful mock civics textbook “America The AudioBook,” our task is not to rest
on the laurels of our forefathers, but rather to put as much hard work and
careful thought into maintaining democracy as they did into creating
it.

Jon Stewart puts that challenge in
the mouth of Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence. I put
mine in the mouth of James Madison, known as the father of the U.S.
Constitution. To make it even more interesting and relevant, I have him discuss
these ideas with Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in the context of California’s
legislative gridlock. The resulting dialogue is intended to be a lively, if
admittedly wonky, exploration of ways to improve upon the
minor but painful deficiencies in our current legislative structure. While not
exactly intended for the mass market, the hope is that will at least motivate
attention from people already frustrated with “politics as usual” who would be
open to radical improvements.

My
inspiration was the insight from Joseph Ellis’ Founding Brothers, that it was the creative
tension between imperfect men working in the light of history which enabled them
to found an enduring nation. Which gives me hope that maybe, just maybe, that
same creativity — plus the same improbable combination of hubris and humility
— will enable us to redeem it.

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