A Crisis of (Lack of) Democracy
I strongly believe that most of the social and environmental issues we face are a result of a lack of true democracy -- that is, a lack of real self-governance and self-determination. Too many decisions that impact our lives are made behind closed doors or out of the eye of the public, by "representatives" that increasingly only represent the already rich and powerful rather than the people as a whole. Many of these decision makers were never even elected, but still hold such decision-making power due to their government or business ties. For example, UPMC CEO Jeffrey A. Romoff has a large amount of decision-making power over our healthcare system in the Pittsburgh region, simply by virtue of him leading a healthcare giant, even though he's never been elected and probably most people don't even know who he is. But even our elected officials spend more time at Chamber of Commerce functions with businessmen than they do town halls open to the public. The people are rarely invited to directly participate in decision making. This MUST change.
The Pennsylvania Constitution states in Article 1 Section 2: "All power is inherent in the people, and all free governments are founded on their authority and instituted for their peace, safety and happiness. For the advancement of these ends they have at all times an inalienable and indefeasible right to alter, reform or abolish their government in such manner as they may think proper."
In accordance with Article 1 Section 2, I believe municipalities, local governments, and community organizations have a right to self-governance should the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania fail to defend Constitutional rights.
I support the following:
- Participatory Budgeting and Democracy. The people should have direct say in the budgeting process, and all other important processes, from the very beginning. Transparency is critical so all may participate if they desire. This goes for municipal governments as well as school districts and any other community organizations.
- A Right to Statewide Ballot Referendum. The people should be able to work around an unresponsive state legislator by directly petitioning for a ballot referendum. This allows the people to directly propose state laws that are then voted on by the people. Similar rights already exist at the local and federal levels, we must ensure a procedure for it at the state level too so that the people are always the final say.
- A Right to Self-Governance. A Constitutional amendment declaring that municipalities have a right to self-governance and enforcement of Constitutional rights free from "pre-emption" by state officials. State law recognizes the authority of the people to operate under "home rule", but when the municipality and state disagree it can be ambiguous. If state officials fail to act on important issues such as protecting our environment, which should be protected by our Constitution as declared in Article 1 Section 27, municipalities should always have the right to take action themselves.
Get Money Out of Politics
I believe every resident of Pennsylvania deserves an equal say in the rules, laws, and general decisions that affect their lives and their communities. In practice, however, money has more speech than the people -- those that can afford full-time lobbyists have more access to representatives and the levers of government than the people.
I support the following actions:
- Publicly funded elections. I would prefer to see a completely publicly-funded campaign system to eliminate the need for tracking contributions in the first place, perhaps through a "Democracy Voucher" type program such as implemented in Seattle. In the meantime, there is currently no limit to donations in Pennsylvania, so I believe we must Limit campaign contributions to candidates as well as making No fundraising during work hours into law. Elected officials should be working for the people by doing necessary research, meeting with community members, and working on legislation, not calling donors and fundraising.
- A Gift Ban on lobbyist contributions. Officials should be directly accountable to the people alone. It should be illegal for candidates and elected officials to take lobbyist campaign cash or "gifts". Legislators don't need gifts of vacations, dinners, event tickets, and more -- there is ZERO legitimate reason for these "gifts", it is only an attempt at political bribery. Period. Legislators should buy themselves fun things with their own salaries if that's what they want to do.
- Greater transparency on political expenditures. All major donors should be disclosed publicly, immediately, not allowed to be hidden. Expenses must be clearly documented and directly related to campaigning, too many expense reports are vague on what the money was actually used to purchase and why it was necessary. Even when elections are publicly funded, any cash funding provided to candidates must be accounted for in a very transparent way.
Today, most elected officials are elected to represent a particular district of people. Districts are supposed to have about equal population so that no district has more power than others, but populations naturally shift over time as people are born, die, and move to other cities and states. According to the Constitution, the US performs a Census every ten years to count the number of people living in each state, region, and city, so that the data may be used to redraw the districts to keep them balanced.
District maps are redrawn by the state legislature every census, which leaves the process open to political manipulation such as political or racial gerrymandering -- in other words, legislators can draw the map in a way to make sure certain districts are majority Republican or majority Democrat (so that members of those party always win), or to spread communities out across multiple districts so that they find it impossible to elect a representative despite being a large percent of the population.
I support the following solutions to address gerrymandering:
- An independent citizens' redistricting commission. An independent redistricting commission outside of the state legislature would go a long way to fixing the issue of gerrymandering. Any such commission must include representation for independent and minor party voters that are not registered with the Democratic or Republican Parties. I believe House Bill 22 and House Bill 23 as introduced in the 2019 session are effective ways to implement this independent commission.
- Multi-winner proportional representation. Gerrymandering largely works because a district can be design to produce a single "known" winner. However, it's much more difficult to draw a district in a way to ensure that multiple winners are from a certain demographic. A multi-winner proportional voting system reduces the ability of district lines to enforce gerrymandering since multiple winners will be chosen from the same district. With an appropriate proportional system, multiple communities will be represented among the winning candidates, rather than a single constituency "by design" as in a gerrymandered single-winner district. Some form of proportional representation is used by most democratic countries around the world, and in fact many US municipalities used some form of proportional representation until shortly after World War 2.
Our elections system is not actually very democratic, and tends to protect incumbents. I support reforms for free and fair elections, including not just a right to vote, but a right for all to run for office. It should be easy to vote, and easy to get on the ballot, and all voters and candidates must be treated equally.
I support the following solutions to improve our voting system and methods:
- Automatic voter registration. Voter registration should be automatic when turning the voting age, and seamlessly updated whenever interacting with the government (such as updating your state ID card or driver license).
- Voting Holidays. Election day should be statewide holiday, where residents are encouraged to attend local town hall meetings to discuss candidates and other ballot items before voting.
- Mail-In Voting. I support mail-in voting to enable voters to participate for any reason, including busy work schedules (most should get a holiday, but understandable that some emergency personnel for example still need to be at work or on duty). I would change one aspect of the recently passed law however: voters should retain the option to show up on election day and cast a vote that nullifies the mail-in vote, if they should choose to do so.
- Ranked choice and proportional representation. Ranked choice voting enables voters to specify their preference for more than one candidate at a time, allowing us to find the true consensus candidate to win elections. A proportional representation system is a type of ranked choice system that can elect more than one candidate at a time, and as a result can eliminate the effects of gerrymandering and ensure that all communities are properly represented in a legislative body. Many countries around the world already use a form of proportional representation, and cities in the US are beginning to adopt it. Maine recently adopted ranked choice voting. Pennsylvania must adopt proportional representation for all state and local legislative bodies, and ranked choice for single-winner executive or judicial offices.
- Easier Candidate Requirements To Get On The Ballot. I support making it easier for all candidates, especially independent and minor party candidates, to get on the ballot for elections. You shouldn't need lots of cash or free time to run for office, we need more everyday people running!
- Reasonable term limits. I believe all elected officials should be term limited. Representatives should be more like jury duty, a temporary civic duty one does as needed and rotate regularly, not become a career job. Aside from potential of corruption, we should also have the attitude that it is important for generation switches to occur, rather than one generation attempting to remain in office for life. Something like a 12 year term for ALL public offices combined seems reasonable to me.