Nope, not AM. Not PM.
The US House of Representatives consists of 435 members. The other day I was idly wondering – why 435? why not 434, or 436? Where did 435 come from? The Constitution specifies only that each House seat shall represent at least 30,000 people – so why 435?
Why indeed? Historically, the size of the House was increased after every decennial census, as the Constitution calls for. The last time, though, was in 1911, when it reached its current size. In 1920-21, Congress could not decide on what methodology to use to do the reapportionment and so they did nothing that session. By 1930, they’d apparently decided that they really liked the idea of not watering down their influence and power any further – so ever since then we’ve had just 435 seats in the House (with a 4-year blip to 437 when Alaska and Hawaii entered the Union).
The House of Representatives is supposed to be the People’s House – but a House member now represents, on average, about 660,000 people. That’s way too many – a far cry from the constitutional lower limit of 30,000. It makes Congressional district constituencies so large that no individual constituent is adequately represented in Congress. How often have YOU spoken to your Representative? Have you even MET him or her? Odds are you haven’t. Because they have to reach so many people, over such large geographic areas, it also makes Congressional campaigns so expensive that ordinary citizens without the ability to contribute to those campaigns have become almost irrelevant to them. The limited number of seats leads to rampant dishonesty and corruption of the re-districting process – as we’ve seen in Tom DeLay’s recent indictments in connection with Texas’ redistricting 2 years ago.
It’s time to take a look at true Congressional reapportionment. The US population as of the 2000 census was roughly 282 million. If we went with 30,000 constituents per Member, the House would swell to almost 10,000 seats. Kind of unwieldy, I’ll admit (it would be difficult to fit them all in the Capitol Building). But there are many compelling reasons for a serious increase in the size of the House – if not all the way down to 30,000, at least to something far lower than the 800,000 constituents per member it will likely be after the 2010 census.
I’ll be doing some research over the next weeks, figuring out how this would work and what its likely advantages and disadvantages might be. I’ll be posting my findings and analysis as I go.
Here’s hoping for a more democratic (and a more Democratic) 2006, and I wish you all a happy, healthy New Year.
[Cross-posted from Mapleberry Blog]