In the latest monthly issue of the Arkansas Times, Clarke Tucker, defeated for Congress but not forgotten, contributes an important short essay to the "Big Ideas 2019" feature.
The young Democratic lawyer-politician deftly outlines seven of the eight actions we should take to try to rescue our representative democracy for the people.
Explaining that money and other corrupting influences have left the people increasingly on the outside, Tucker lists what are mildly bold proposals.
• To get about the serious work of stopping hacking and outside interference in our political process.
• To protect the people's access to direct lawmaking through the initiative process.
• To vest in a nonpartisan entity the redrawing of new political districts after each new census, thus stopping the self-perpetuation of gerrymandering.
• To rid our system of "dark money" by requiring disclosure of all contributions.
• To advance voting rights with automatic registration and voting by mail or making election day a holiday as well as by letting former felons vote and 16- and 17-year-olds pre-register.
• To have all-comer, both-party primaries and/or ranked voting in primaries so that second choices would get more points than last choices in large fields.
• To boost grass-roots campaigns by setting up a public matching system for small-dollar donations.
That final item means that a candidate could receive a bonus from a public fund only after demonstrating a broad base of financial support from regular people. Your own $100 contribution, which stressed your budget more than a rich special interest's few million dollars stretched its, could be turned into $150, maybe, or doubled.
None of that is radical and all of it, if we're lucky, is coming in time, assuming today's young people keep thinking the same way.
Campaigns would be more broad-based, accountable and pure. Voter registration would be easier and the voting process more accessible. Primaries would be decided by runoffs of the top two candidates regardless of party, and the final tallies would be based on rankings of candidates by voters that would plug into a point system, placing a premium on broad appeal instead of extremism or demagoguery.
Meantime, perhaps you noticed that I credited Tucker with properly identifying seven of the eight reforms needed to restore power to the people.
I asked him where he stood on the eighth. I referred to the need advanced in this space--and by his friend from Harvard, Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg--to do away with the electoral college.
It is to let a simple majority or ballot-leading plurality of American voters choose the president rather than give extra power to people in states where not many live, such as Wyoming and Montana and the Dakotas and Kansas and Nebraska ... and Arkansas.
Typically, Tucker replied thoughtfully even if, by my reckoning, wrongly.
"I know it's a bit of a litmus test in Democratic circles these days, but I don't feel as strongly about the electoral college," he wrote back.
Yes, Tucker said, his Democratic Party had lost two presidencies to second-place Republicans this young century, "but I think, in a popularly elected system, the campaigns would have been waged much differently and it's impossible to know what the outcomes would have been."
He wrote that a small-state, big-state compromise was the founders' reasoning for the electoral-college system, and said that, if efforts were to be expended on a constitutional amendment, he would prioritize overturning Citizens United and ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment rather than doing away with the electoral college.
Tucker also said he is averse to "outcome-oriented" reform and that the idea of abolishing the electoral college seemed influenced by a desire to produce Democratic victories.
I countered that abolishing the electoral college is a nonpartisan reform that would produce victories by the leading vote-getters no matter the party, though, as regards the presidency, the leading vote-getters happen to have been Democrats in six of the last seven elections, all but 2004, when George W. Bush outpolled John Kerry.
We needn't punish the Democrats for being more popular.
I am aware that deciding presidential elections by the novel notion of national vote totals would give dreaded equal power to individuals living by the droves in such never-never lands as California and New York. That frightens some people around here who prefer to reserve extra power for their own fear.
I suggested to Tucker that maybe we need an electoral college for Arkansas governor's races.
A state electoral college could give extra power to voters from the low-population counties while holding below-par the votes of scary people who run around Little Rock and Fayetteville.
Tucker didn't respond, perhaps thinking the point was entirely rhetorical, as it was.
I don't really believe that we need an electoral college for Arkansas. I'm just saying we don't need one for the United States, either.
Power to the people, I say, even if there is a slew of them in California.
John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at [email protected] Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.
Editorial on 05/07/2019
Print Headline: JOHN BRUMMETT: Power to the people