Which means that nine out of ten Americans do not feel properly represented in the legislative halls of our nation.
Almost sixty years ago, I was the Republican nominee for the United States Congress in the old fifteenth district of Michigan, a slice of the west side of Detroit.
It was a special election to fill a vacancy. There was a newspaper strike during that campaign. Only a fraction of the voters showed up.
I was 26 years old. My Democratic opponent was 29. He won in a walk. His name was John Dingell.
That was in 1955. John Dingell is still in Congress. His 58 year tenure in office is a record. He is the longest serving Member of the House in the history of the nation.
I like John. Always did. He’s a good old boy who takes care of his constituents and sticks by his Rooseveltian liberal principles.
But unhappily, Dingell has become the poster boy for entrenched politicians.
The old fifteenth district is no more. But Dingell survived, and was reelected to represent the new 12th district which stretches in a tortured bit of gerrymandering from Dearborn to Ann Arbor.
The quintessential career politician, Dingell has overseen the reapportioning of his district every ten years to maintain the ethnic and political majorities that have assured his continuation in office.
Now 86 years of age, Dingell is hardly the kind of Representative envisioned by the Founders. He is not likely to knock on anyone’s door or to be an active presence in the communities he represents.
To the three quarters of a million people in his district, Dingell is a distant, largely unknown entity. A Democrat. An incumbent. A politician. Somebody who lives and works in Washington, D.C., cavorts with lobbyists, votes himself benefits, and votes the Party line.
What is missing is the relationship between the representative and the represented.
What is missing is a sense of community, and the conviction that there is a member of Congress who is a part of the community he or she speaks for.
The original scheme of the federal constitution would have assured that Representatives in the Congress would speak for no more than 50,000 people.
If that ratio were in force today, the House of Representatives would be composed of over six thousand people.
Impossible? Impractical? Not necessarily.
Maybe it’s time for a two-tiered House of Representatives in the United States Congress.
Start with 435 seats in the House. That’s what it has been for over a century. There’s a lot of emotional capital and historical baggage in the Capitol Building.
But add this: in every Congressional district there could be a number of subdivisions, call them communities, ridings, wards, whatever. These sub-districts would each contain approximately 50,000 people.
Each sub-district would elect one Congressional Representative every two years.
Each Congressional District would have around 15 of these sub-districts. The Representatives would have to be residents of the sub-district in which they are elected. They would have offices in the district. They would receive a compensation equal to a private in the army.
Every two years, before the convening of a new Congress the Congressional Representatives in each District would designate one of their number to attend sessions of Congress in the Capitol. He or She would receive no additional compensation, but expenses of travel and lodging could be reimbursed.
The Congressional Representative designated to attend sessions of the Congress would be known as a Member of Congress. Members of Congress could be recalled by a vote of two thirds of the Congressional Representatives in the district.
There are many details which would have to be addressed, but the concept of a two-tiered House of Representatives deserves serious consideration.