Who knew that there is actually something that you can do to help fix political gridlock!
Three years ago, California was teased as a “failed state”. The state was nearly bankrupt, infrastructure was crumbling, and the government was completely gridlocked. But as I reported a month ago, nobody is teasing California any more. Their economy is going gangbusters, there is no more gridlock, and they solved their budget issues.
How did this amazing turnaround happen? Yes, the Republican party collapsed, which gave progressive Democrats a supermajority in the legislature, and thus the power to fix problems. And much of the credit has to go to Jerry Brown, who is now the longest serving governor in California history, and one of the most effective.
But ironically, the Democrats owe their victories to a Republican, former Governator Arnold Schwarzenegger. At the end of his term he put all of his energy into passing two seemingly simple reforms. In 2008, he supported a state proposition that eliminated gerrymandering by giving the power to draw electoral boundaries to a citizens’ commission. And in 2010 he wrote a state proposition which created open primaries, so that citizens can vote in any primary, regardless of party affiliation.
These two propositions were opposed by the Democrats, including Senator Barbara Boxer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and were largely supported by Republicans, including gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman and New York city mayor Michael Bloomberg.
The changes make it far more difficult for candidates from either ideological extreme to get elected by pandering to their radical base. As a result, politics become more moderate. And politicians were able to compromise and work with the other party in order to get things done, without fear of reprisal from the more radical fringes in their party.
How much more gets done? During the 17 days of the federal shutdown, Brown signed 363 bills into law. As a comparison, only 90 bills have made it through Congress for Obama to sign in all of 2013. California has even tackled immigration reform, something that both parties agree we need at the federal level, but which has been blocked repeatedly by a fringe minority.
This is something we can do. By passing two common-sense laws at the state level, we can actually eliminate our paralyzing gridlock at the federal level:
- Take away the politicians’ ability to draw their own electoral districts, which gives a huge advantage to incumbents.
- Make all primary elections open to any voter, regardless of party affiliation.
California has shown that these two simple changes can deliver amazing benefits. Let your representatives (especially at the state level) know that you support these changes.