As always happens during politically charged years, I start considering things about our current political environment that I would like to see changed. Here are a list of things that I believe, if they were changed, would have the potential to make significant improvements in our political situation.
I haven’t tried to rank them in terms of importance. But here is my current list.
1) Abolish the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD)
I wrote about this one in my previous blog post, so I won’t go into any details here. The CPD controls the format of the presidential debates, and restricts who can participate.
Since 1996, no candidate from any party except for the Democrats and Republicans has been allowed to participate in the debates. The last time a third party candidate was allowed to participate was in 1992 when Ross Perot was included, and he received almost 20% of the popular vote. In 1996, the CPD excluded Perot from the debate. Perot still got 8% of the popular vote, but if he had been allowed in the debates, that percentage would have been higher. In fact, there was a genuine possibility that he could have won the election, had he been allowed in the debates, and for that reason, he should have been allowed to debate.
Since 2000, no third party candidate has been allowed to participate in the debates, and none have received more than 3% of the popular vote.
The CPD is jointly controlled by the Democrat and Republican parties.
2) Implement ranked voting
This was also covered in my previous blog post. Ranked voting would allow people to rank several candidates in order of preference for an office. This would allow people to vote for a third party candidate and still have the ability to assign preference to one of the candidates from the main parties.
Ballot counting is a bit less intuitive in a ranked voting system, but to be honest, it’s not much less intuitive than our current system which allows a candidate to win the popular vote, and yet lose the election due to how the electoral college votes. A clear example of this is in 2016 when Trump gained 46.1% of the vote and Hillary Clinton won 48.2% (a clear victory for Clinton), but Trump won the electoral college vote 304 to Clinton’s 227.
Switching to a ranked voting system would certainly require some voter education, but it would be worth the effort, and is used in some places in the world and even in some places in the United States.
Ranked voting is almost universally opposed by the two main parties because it makes it easier for people to vote for third party candidates.
3) Amend the 14th amendment
Here’s a tricky one because it involves so many steps, and is quite complicated.
The 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments were all passed in a short period of time in order to grant rights to blacks. The 13th amendment abolished slavery, and the 15th granted blacks the right to vote. The 14th amendment states that every citizen has rights, that no state may pass a law which deprives them of those rights, and that every person has equal protection of the laws.
Now, as it is stated, that amendment is very good and directly supports the idea that the purpose of the government is to secure the rights of all people equally.
The problem is that the amendment has also been applied to corporations. It was recognized early on that corporations needed certain rights. A corporation needed the right to own property, and to enter into a contract. It also needed the right to sue someone, and be sued, just as if it were a person.
In 1886, in a Supreme Court case, the court wrote a statement saying that it was their opinion that the equal protection statement applied to corporations, as well as individuals. This statement was not made in the statement of the verdict; it was just a headnote to the ruling, but that paved the way for many other rulings.
For example, in 1888, the court granted corporations the right to spend any amount of money to get initiatives on the ballot, treating that as a 1st amendment right that applied to corporations.
At this time, corporate personhood, the concept that corporations enjoy the same rights, protected at the same level as individuals, is well established in our laws. This has led to corporations, and the money they have, having far too much influence over politics.
So, the 14th amendment needs to be amended to explicitly say that it applies to people, NOT corporations. Then, an additional amendment, or bills, could be passed which secure rights that are necessary to corporations (such as the right to own property or enter into a contract), but other rights should be reserved to individuals. That should includes religion (corporations should not be enforcing one set of religious principles over another) and political speech (corporations do not vote, and should not be allowed to promote one political views, and certainly should not be allowed to use money to influence political movements).
Once that was done, it would then be necessary to revisit the court cases that created the ‘corporate personhood’ concept and revise them.
4) Repeal the 17th amendment
Here’s one which will be very controversial.
When the founding fathers defined the government, in the constitution, they put in lots of checks and balances. The different branches of the government all have power that they can use to place checks on the other branches so that the power of the government is somewhat self-limited.
They also built in checks for state vs. federal governments. It was felt that some functions of the government were best handled at a federal level, but others were best handled at a state level. Several items in the constitutional government were put there to maintain that balance.
As an example, it was understood that people had to be able to communicate with each other, even across state boundaries, so the federal government was given control of the post office (which was the primary means of communication at that time). Other things like protecting the country from military invasions, regulating interstate commerce, and making treaties with other countries were also reserved for the federal government.
But other things were reserved for the states. Indeed, the 10th amendment says:
The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.
In other words, powers not mentioned in the constitution are reserved to the states or the people (i.e. not a government function at all). Things such as education, health care, etc., are not mentioned in the constitution, and as such, according to the constitution, government involvement should be done at the state level, rather than the federal level (or there should not be government involvement at all).
A check was built into the constitution which allowed the states to have a say in how the federal government was run: they controlled half of the legislative branch of the government. Senators were to be appointed by the states. The people controlled the other half of the legislative branch, and members of the House of Representatives were elected by the people. This was a method to preserve the power for the states and check the federal power.
Over the years, powers have moved more and more from the states to the federal government.
There are certainly good reasons why the federal government might be involved in more things than it was initially. People in the 1700’s when the constitution was formed did not tend to move around a lot. They were born, lived, and died in one state. Now though, people rarely stay in one state, and so, the federal government does play a role in terms of interstate relations. For example, an educational degree that was obtained in one state needs to be valid in another state.
As such, it is not entirely unreasonable to expand the scope of the federal governments role in terms of regulating how things (such as educational degrees) from one state are given similar status in another state. However, the role of the states needs to be protected as well, and removing their representation in the federal government was a terrible blow to the states vs. federal government balance that was defined in the constitution.
I understand that people will regard it as a step backward to remove their right to vote for a state senator… but it would be a step forward to restoring some balance between the states and the federal government.
5) A new amendment that states that bills have to have a single purpose
A rider is a term describing a provision that is added to a legislative bill which is unrelated to the primary purpose of the bill.
Riders have been a method used by members of congress to get something turned into law without going through the normal process of garnering support for it and getting it voted into law.
As an example, one week after the Affordable Care Act was signed into law, an amended bill was passed. The amended bill included a rider related to student loan reform.
Riders have been made illegal in 43 of the US States, but are still allowed in the federal government.
They should be made illegal at the federal level (and in the remaining 7 states as well).
6) A new amendment that states that bills include necessary funding
When a bill is passed that creates some new government agency, or requires some new resource not currently available, it should be mandatory that the bill should also include a source of funding.
When congress members vote yes on a bill, it should be absolutely clear they are also voting yes on some tax increase (or on a cut for some other service if the funding will be coming from a current service).
No bill should ever be passed without clearly understanding where the money is going to come from. A bill should not be passed without a clear statement saying how much it is actually going to cost!
7) A new amendment with term limits for all offices
There should be term limits for all elected or appointed offices. I would really like to see a decrease in ‘career politicians’ and an increase of people who decided to run for office because they saw a need and were willing to leave their ‘normal life’ and get into politics, bringing their experience with them.
I would like term limits on both a per-position basis (for example, you can only be a senator for 2 terms) and overall limits (you can only served 6 terms total in any elected or appointed federal position). I use those numbers to illustrate what I’m saying, not because I believe those should be the actual limits. However, I think that those would be pretty reasonable limits.
8) Amend the Uniform Time Act
One last one. Unlike the others, this one will not improve the political situation of the country. This one is just because I’m really annoyed that it exists.
The Uniform Time Act was passed in 1966 and regulates daylight saving time. It specifies the dates where daylight saving time goes into effect and when it ends and it allows states to either use daylight saving time based on those date, or to stay in standard time. The dates have been amended since then at various times, but other regulations have stayed unchanged.
I have no problem with it specifying the dates of daylight saving time (it would be a mistake to have states change times at different dates of the year). But most states would prefer to eliminate the time change, but stay at daylight saving time all year. In the past 3 years, 13 states have passed legislation that they would remain at DST all year if they were allowed.
I would like to see that act amended to allow this, which would allow the painful time changes to stop in my state (because Florida is one of those 13 states). Other states would quickly follow and we’d be well on our way to getting rid of that stupid idea.