Remember from civics that the House of Representatives was intended to be the volatile, nearly direct voice of the people and the Senate was to be the staid, deliberative voice of the states? Aside from the rules of the two houses and the terms of office, the far greater number of Representatives was intended to ensure that Representatives were very closely connected to the people they represented. Hence… the name of their body. The limit on this was set that there should never be more than one representative for every 30,000 citizens. At this level, Representatives had very little individual power compared to Senators, but their numbers and their close connection to their constituencies were to ensure that the will of the people had a strong voice.
In 1911, public law 62-5 was passed, which limited the number of members of the House of Representatives to 435, maintaining Congress’ authority to change that number if it wants to. The effect of this has been the steady increasing in size of Congressional Districts and the diminishing of the connection between a Representative and his or her constituents. Indeed, each member of the House of Representatives has a constituency of nearly 650,000 people today. That’s a far cry from 30,000.
At 650,000 constituents, the typical Representative is little more connected to his constituents than the Senators. They are somewhat more connected, to be sure. The focus of a representative whose district includes a mid-size city is going to be different from a representative whose district covers thousands of square miles of rural farmland. But the intimacy of the representation is clearly lost.
- Williamsport, PA
- Rochester, NH
- Ithaca, NY
- Prattville, AL
- Newark, DE
- Cooper City, FL
- Poughkeepsie, NY
- Marysville, OH
- Saratoga, CA
- Texarkana, AR
- Walla Walla, WA
- Juneau, AK
- Roseville, MN
These are some US cities that have populations of more or less 30,000 people. I can pretty much guarantee you that any citizen of these cities can get an appointment with the mayor. Probably, they can walk into the mayor’s office and get a quick audience in between meetings. The mayors of these cities know their citizens and the issues that concern them like the back of their hand. They know the families. The know the kids. They know not just the big businesses, but the small ones.
I can also pretty much guarantee you that many, many of the citizens of that city are intimately aware of the quality of the mayor’s representation. They know whether decisions are being made because they are good for them or for their neighbors and they certainly know when something has gone amiss and suddenly decisions are being made for some company 1,200 miles away that doesn’t even have any employees in the city.
At one representative per 30,000 people, the House of Representatives would have over 9,000 members. We would have to do some work to make sure that a governing body of 9,000 could get anything done. But we live in an extremely connected world. The Internet and telecommunications, the highway system, and air travel, have vastly changed the way most of us do business. It really would not be necessary that all 9,000 members of the House assembled at the same time and place. If we wanted to, we could find ways for them to telecommute like so many of us do now. And what a change that would be to have our Representatives living with us again, in our communities, every day. Wouldn’t it be something if they always showed up at little league games, and you ran into them a couple of times a month at Burger King it seemed, and your kids went to school with his kids, and he jogged past your house in the morning…
Think of how difficult it would be for lobbyists to gain sway with them and steer them toward representing interests other than those that truly are important to their close friends and family and to their neighbors.
Now, perhaps 9,000 is too many representatives, although, for the life of me I don’t know why it would be. But it seems that 435 is ludicrously too few. At this ridiculously low level, each member of the House has way more power than was intended for them to have. They are nowhere near as closely connected to their constituents as was intended. No matter where they come from, they end up living and working in a major metropolitan area in the mid-Altantic. Whether they represent farmers, lumberjacks, a college community, or a bedroom community, they all end up dealing with the Metro in Washington DC. They live in a culture, often for years and years and years, that is not remotely like the one they represent.
We need to have some national think time about this. We need to increase the number of Representatives in the House of Representatives probably well into the thousands so, once again, they can be people you know and work with, people you grew up with. The need to become again people of modest, normal, everyday backgrounds instead of being limited only to millionaires and people with completely atypical American experiences.