(Statement by John Walsh, Republican Candidate, MD 8th Congressional District)
Let me begin by thanking everyone who voted for change and reform. I look forward to advancing these goals during the campaign and, with your help, in Congress.
As Senator McCain said many times, and as his eulogizers from both political parties reminded us during his historic funeral in August, our government has to get back on track.
What happened to “normal order” and bipartisanship for the benefit of all that was the message from Senator McCain and Presidents Bush and Obama?
The funeral was a clarion call to those of us (84% according to pollsters) who are already disillusioned with Congress, to take individual action now and accept personal responsibility to do what we can to restore and revive Congress for all of our benefit.
At this time in history, I believe there is much more to being an effective Congressional representative than voting the right way and doing an excellent job at constituent services, both of which are extremely important. I believe there is even more than trying to reach across the aisle and work in a bipartisan manner.
And for voters, I believe there is more action necessary than just voting.
For Congressional candidates and voters alike, I believe, there is a need to recognize our neglected constitutional legacies, overcome our deeply held cynicism that nothing can be done to change the situation and demand in unison the structural and organizational reforms necessary to regain our political voices and assure a functioning government.
I have spent a majority of the time on this campaign researching and identifying what changes, I am convinced, are immediately and constitutionally available to all of us.
I encourage all of you to read this open letter and to let me know if you are willing to support these proposals. I am certain that most of what you will learn in this letter will be new to you and is it was to me before I began my research.
It is my conviction that even the best intentioned and well meaning Congressional representative and voter can be a part of the problem, not part of the solution, unless we are both engaged in this conversation.
Here are the initial specific proposals:
First, we have to greatly expand the number of Congressional districts.
The Constitutional framers designed the House to be the voice of the people. To do so, the population size was intentionally small so the representative would be truly of the people both socially and politically.
Over the next 120 years, following each Census, Congress customarily voted to increase the number of representatives to accommodate population growth and new states. At the same time, Congress also increased the size of the population per district.
In the first Congress, there were 59 members and the average population per district was 34,000. By 1911, the number of Representatives had grown to 435 and the population size per district had increased to 210,000.
In the 1920’s, however, in a break with tradition, Congress froze the number of districts at 435. This decision was a political reaction to a mass migration in the early 20th century from rural to urban areas that threatened to unseat incumbent Members of Congress and the party in power.
For the past one hundred years, both parties have had the opportunity to correct this situation, to honor the ideals of the Constitution and both have chosen to look the other way – to deny us our political inheritance from self interest and/or inertia. Expanding the House is not a partisan issue, it’s about doing what is right!
The average Congressional district now has a population over 750,000 people and, according to some estimates, will be close to 900,000 following the next Census.
The net result of this increase in Congressional district has been to diminish the value of your vote and influence on your Congressional Representative. The larger the district, the more campaigns choose to raise large sums of money from special interests and large donors.
For a more in-depth understanding of the issue, you may want to Google “Reapportionment of the US Congress” and “Reapportionment Act of 1929”. Some personal research on this subject, I believe, will be informative as well, I expect, upsetting.
So what can we do about it?
Most importantly, we have to elect Congressmen and Congresswomen who will support an expansion of the number of districts.
As a point of reference, the United Kingdom and France have populations around 100,000 for their version of our House of Representatives. Wrap your head around those numbers for a minute!
Each vote in those democratic republics has a value at least 7 times what we have. What voters do you think have a better chance of having their individual vote really count – UK, France or the United States? Which voters do you think feel closer to their Representative?
I’m not advocating 100,000 per district, but I do believe we should at least go back to where we were a hundred years ago – 200,000 per district.
If Congress approved this proposal, Maryland would have at least 30 Congressional districts. Raising the number of Representatives doesn’t mean that the state of Maryland would have a greater voice than it does now, other states would see the same increase in their Congressional districts.
But what it sure means is that the people who are effectively disenfranchised today by gerrymandering, the rural voters and minorities in Maryland especially, will have one of their own as their champion. Such is not the case today!
The 1929 Reapportionment Act, in addition to freezing the number of districts, allowed states to design districts in any manner they wished, effectively opening the door for gerrymandering.
To all of you who suffer from this legislative curse, especially those in the Maryland 8th District, now is opportunity to overturn this almost one hundred year old decision for suppressing voter rights, to restore the power of your vote and increase representation for everyone. Small district sizes are our political inheritance. We should demand it back!
Those who oppose this proposal will say that expanding from 435 to 1500 or more members is too cumbersome, that we don’t have the room, that it will be too expensive. Let me address each objection.
1. Expanding Congress will make governing too cumbersome.
I believe we will have coalitions and caucuses as we do now. We will just have more people in Congress participating and probably some more caucuses. I don’t believe it will lead to a continuation of stagnation; I see that the clarity of perspective from members who will represent more homogeneous districts will lead to more focus and better governance.
Remember, these new representatives will possess more localized, specialized knowledge that can benefit legislation. Consider how much knowledge and expertise they will add!
2. We can’t expand Congress because we don’t have the room
This objection was one of the reasons Congress used to rationalize its decision in 1929 and it’s an issue but not one that is insurmountable. As a matter of fact, expansion of government and buildings to accommodate government growth is a regular, standard practice.
How many government buildings have been built and expanded since 1929? The Library of Congress, originally housed in the Capitol, now has 3 main buildings on Capitol Hill and a huge archive in Maryland to provide a national resource for research and learning. Why did Congress not believe that it was just as important to protect our political heritage?
My proposal would be to implement the expansion following the Census of 2020 so that Congress would have three years to plan for the expansion.
3. Expanding the House is too expensive
The cost of expansion is very interesting. The current cost is approximately $1.5 million dollars per Congressional district. This cost includes the Representative as well as the cost of 14 full time staff plus 4 part timers.
To add 1000 Representatives would cost around $1.5 billion dollars, if you believe that smaller districts required the same number of staff. My guess is that you would not need as much staff, so for discussion purposes let’s imagine that the cost is closer to $1 billion. These are just ballpark numbers to frame the discussion.
The projected cost of running the government in 2021 is around $ 5 Trillion – 5,000 times the cost of adding more representation. According to that calculation, the cost to a taxpayer paying $10,000 in taxes would be $2.
My point is that the cost of expanded representation is minimal. For a nominal amount from each of us, we get our House of Representatives back.
There are several additional reforms to discuss and they all work together but expansion of the House, reducing the population limit per Congressional district so that our voices are heard is the most important step we can take to stop the influence of special interests and money and return the House to the people.
Second, we have to have an Independent Speaker of the House.
The majority of the members of the Constitutional Convention and the states that ratified the Constitution all agreed that the House of Representatives could select anyone to be the Speaker; the Speaker need not be a Member of the House.
The first Speaker, Frederick Muhlenberg of Pennsylvania, was a Member of the House, elected, in part, to provide leadership on a geographic basis. President Washington was from the slave owning South, Vice President John Adams was from Boston and Muhlenberg was from the midAtlantic.
In spite of the opportunity to elect a nationally known, respected leader who did not run for Congress, Congress chose to select one of their own. Thus was the precedent established.
Quickly, political parties saw the advantages of having one of their own in charge of the House, controlling legislation for partisan purposes. And so it goes today!
For those of you who are in the 84% and believe Congress is dysfunctional, I ask that you
consider an idea that has the opportunity to change the way the House works and change your assessment of their performance to the better.
I believe it is time to establish a new tradition – the Independent Speaker – who agrees to run the House in a bipartisan manner for the purpose of serving the people, not a particular party.
Think of the Independent Speaker as an umpire, who calls balls and strikes, who maintains order, who makes decisions for the benefit of the game, not for just one of the teams.
The Constitutional framers, especially Washington, warned us of the dangers of parties. Unfortunately, his concerns are being realized. Currently, Speakers only seek to pass legislation if their own party can supply all the votes needed. In many important areas, the attempts fail.
Legislation that is needed, such as Immigration and Healthcare reform, are not passed and there is no attempt at compromise or bipartisanship. As a result, for partisan political purposes, the country loses!
Unfortunately, our politics has descended into is what political philosophers call “tyranny of the majority”!
The Independent Speaker is an opportunity to break the logjam. Instead of voting for someone in a partisan caucus, Members from both parties would elect a respected, ethical leader from the outside that they would bring in to umpire Congress.
The goal of electing an Independent Speaker is to find someone that is acceptable to a combined majority of Members of both parties who would focus on improving their effectiveness as a group for the benefit of all of us.
It’s time for us to realize that this emphasis on partisanship is separating us as a nation, fostering distrust and creating, in some cases, irreconcilable differences within families.
I believe we need a Congress and legislation that binds us together as a people. We need to build a stronger, more perfect union with each other. I’m sure you do too!
The Independent Speaker is an important second step in improving Congress, bridging our differences and addressing our national needs.
Third, we have to modernize Congress and the Committee Structure
Those of you who travel for personal or business reasons fully realize that you don’t have to be at home or the office to make a decision, purchase an item or service, or to meet with people in person to conduct business. We have all many options for being present with others without being physically at the same location.
That said, why does Congress require Members to be physically present in order to be at a hearing or to vote? Doesn’t that seem outdated and counter productive? I understand there is a need for Members to build relationships across and within parties which requires time together, but shouldn’t Congress get with the times?
One of the biggest surprises I had in researching Congress was to discover that neither Healthcare nor Immigration are standing committees. Standing committees have dedicated staff resources to assist Members with evaluating and drafting legislation.
Then, with further research, I learned that the last major reformation to the Committee structure was implemented in 1946 following WWII. In 1970, Congress modified the committees, moving responsibilities around, renaming committees, modifying the power of the committee chairs, but essentially, the structure was based on what was implemented earlier.
I mention these situations as examples of how Congress resists change; I’m sure you can
provide many other examples.
The importance of looking at how Congress can modernize is to realize that the longer people stay there and many stay a long time, the more vested they become in keeping things the same way – they become protectors of the status quo – and updating or changing the way Congress operates is overlooked or avoided. Anyone who has been to Capitol Hill, has seen the massive structures and how they dominate Washington, DC. These are large immovable objects. These monuments to government provide us with a sense of history and permanence but they also seem to restrain the Members’ desire
to change, to update themselves, to modernize.
We all suffer when innovation and creativity is stifled; we need to bring new ideas and people to Congress as instruments of change.
Fourth, Congress needs to implement term limits
A nationwide poll found that over 80% of all voters support term limits.
Yet, nothing is done. There are a handful of bills introduced with little support in the House. None of these bills have made it out of committee and none are expected to go anywhere.
Term limits are another example of politicians and political parties taking care of themselves at the expense of what the American voters want. And they continue to get away with it.
Congress for most politicians is a career path; not a temporary time to set aside for service.
Term limits, in my estimation, are a solution to changing the focus in Congress back to the people Congress was designed to serve with representatives that truly reflect their district.
To implement term limits we have to go through an Amendment process. Sounds difficult, but in reality the roadblock isn’t ratification by the states, it’s the Members and the leaders of the Congressional delegations.
So, how do we get Congress to vote for term limits?
We all agree not to vote for someone who won’t make a pledge. We make it an issue in every Congressional campaign. Yes or No!
I’m a believer in term limits, I just don’t know what is the exact number of terms we should limit a Representative in the House. My personal belief is that the number is between 3 – 6 terms (6 to 12 years). I pledge, if elected, to serve a maximum of 3 terms.
I believe term limits need to be long enough for giving Representatives time to become more and more effective and develop an institutional knowledge, but short enough that we allow for new blood, energy and enthusiasm to keep Congress vibrant.
I also see that under term limits, each Member of Congress would have a responsibility to train and educate anyone who is interested in entering political life on how Congress works so that those who are interested are best prepared for the challenge and can make the best impact with their term.
If elected, I intend to develop a curriculum to serve this purpose. I enjoy developing training programs and was honored by the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce as Small Business Leader of the Year for developing an education program for those interested in becoming entrepreneurs. I would like to do the same for those interested in serving as Members of Congress.
Fifth, we will establish a new model for constituent services
Under the current Congressional model for the Maryland 8th District, the vast bulk of the
constituent services resources are housed in Rockville. For those living in Frederick and Carroll Counties, your office hours are for two hours a month.
If elected, I will implement two major changes.
First, we will do away with the retail model of service where you have to come to a physical location and replace that model with mobile units that will roam the 8th District and meet people where it is convenient for them. The goal is to for make it easier for people to be served but also to use the mobile office for outreach to those who are not aware of how we can be of assistance.
Second, we will have “town hall” meetings at least once every two weeks. We will come to update you on what is going on, what progress is being made on our proposals, what we need to do to better serve you and to learn what your thoughts are on legislation and other matters.
We will be committed to improving the communication between you and Congress. While our goals is to expand Congress so that you can have even better access to Congress in the future, in the meantime, we will make changes based on a delivery model of service. Together we hope to build the model of constituent services for other Members and districts.
Politicians and political parties have disenfranchised voters by increasing the population of congressional districts, gerrymandering, partisanship, adherence to outmoded methods of operating, lack of innovation/creativity and blatant self interest.
Unfortunately none of these methods of disenfranchisement are new. Over generations, we have grown accustomed to, and even accepting of, this behavior, as the normal state of affairs.
The really sad outcome is that as these politicians and parties have become more successful at devaluing our constitutional inheritances, as our approval of their actions has continued to erode, we have not been offered a way out of our situation.
Instead we are offered choices based on policies that divide us when we need legislation that binds us together.
My hope is that you will consider and support these proposals as a starting point!
These reforms are not meant to be all inclusive but together they will affect change!!
If you are interested in real change and reform, then please vote for me on November 6th.
I hope to hear back from you.
MD 8th Congressional District