Golden State could use a few more politicians 

When I lived in Iowa, I was an average citizen with a question for the Governor’s Office for an article I was writing for a small newsletter. I called the Capitol number and was transferred to an aide, who responded with something to this effect: “Why don’t you come and ask the governor yourself?” When I got to the appointment, the governor gave me a half-hour of his time.

Getting an audience with Gov. Jerry Brown would be nearly impossible for an average citizen. But while it’s unrealistic to expect average voters to get a visit with their governor, they should have a chance to meet with their state representative.

Unfortunately, California residents have only a slim chance of meeting with their Assembly members, the ones who are supposed to be the people’s advocates. For instance, Iowans are represented by 103 members of the House of Representatives, whereas Californians are represented by 80 members of the Assembly. There is one representative for every 29,151 Iowans (as of 2008 data) and one Assembly member for every 459,458 Californians. There is an elected representative in New Hampshire’s house for every 3,290 of that state’s residents, which is the best level of representation in the nation.

I gave a talk about the failure of California Republicans at the state Libertarian Party Convention at Lake Tahoe last weekend and focused on the party’s failure to end redevelopment agencies. Activist Michael Warnken approached me after the talk and handed me the above data designed to make his point that the continuation of redevelopment is a “representation problem.”

In his view, most of California’s ills are the result of an insufficient number of representatives. The fewer the representatives, the less likely they are to be held accountable by local voters and the easier they are to be controlled by well-financed interest groups. He argued that an Assembly that was closer to the people would have been less likely to side with developers that routinely abuse property rights. Last Sunday, Warnken’s resolution calling to increase the number of districts and representatives passed overwhelmingly at the convention.

“You name the problem,” he said. “This is the solution.” I’m rarely swayed by easy fixes, but Warnken’s idea of expanding representation for California represents something refreshing — an idea worth mulling over by reform-minded Californians of all political stripes.

Increasing representation would reduce the power of special interests. These groups like smaller numbers of representatives because their money plays the biggest role. With fewer reps, there is so much to govern, so unaccountable bureaucratic officials end up making more decisions. Expanding representation reduces the power of money. Additional seats mean an easier chance for voters to kick the bums out. New Hampshire had a 34.5 percent turnover rate in its 2008 statehouse races, meaning that more than one out of three incumbents lost their seats. In California, that number was zero.

Sure, increasing representation will result in having more politicians, but nothing says that they need to be granted bigger budgets. By diluting the power of politicians, we would likely see an increase in citizen-legislators. Reformers who are upset by the myriad abuses in California’s overused initiative process, might want to consider the representation alternative. Californians take everything to the ballot box because they have such little opportunity to fix things through the Legislature.

It won’t fix everything, but it’s the most promising idea I’ve heard in a long time.

Steven Greenhut is editor of; write to him at

About The Author

Steven Greenhut

Pin It

More by Steven Greenhut

Latest in Guest Columns

Friday, Oct 19, 2018


© 2018 The San Francisco Examiner

Website powered by Foundation