Later this week, the issue of campaign finance reform may finally get taken up. If all parties can agree, we may find ourselves with a public financing system, and with lobbyists and those who have contracts with the state excluded.
Will either of these measures, if passed, lead to less corruption and better government? Maine and Arizona both have public financing, and both states have seen an upswing in primaries, candidate diversity and competition. The "money gap" incumbents hold over challengers would either disappear or be greatly reduced. Candidates wouldn't have to spend most of their time fundraising. These would all be good things for Connecticut.
But would we see corruption decrease? Would we have better government after this? The legislative shakeup would start to provide some much needed fresh blood, but corruption may be much harder to remove. Here are some steps we can take toward both better government and less corruption:
- Strictly Enforce Exisiting Ethics Rules: The state does have plenty of ethics rules on file. The legislature should be vigilant and be prepared to punish even the smallest of violations.
- Longer Terms and Term Limits: Put a cap on the number of years a person can serve in the legislature. It doesn't have to be something silly, like a single or two terms. But perhaps 16-20 years should be enough time. This allows experienced public officials to remain in leadership posts, but also allows fresh ideas to enter the House or Senate on a regular basis. Lengthening terms would give legislators a break from constantly running for re-election. Perhaps half to a third of the legislature should be up for re-election every other year, with a significant number of incumbents taken out of the mix by term limits.
- Legislative Pay Raise: Legislators don't make enough money to survive on. This can lead to questionable situations like Speaker Amann holding fundraisers for the charity he works for in his office. It also guarantees that members of the middle and lower classes can't afford to be in the legislature.
- A Full-Time Legislature: The legislature has been running out of time to finish its yearly business for a long while, now. These special sessions can get tiresome. If they are full-time, they can react to changing situations more quickly and be able to finish the business at hand. We also won't have "midnight rushes" on the last day of the session, when a dozen or more bills are passed in the last minutes.
- Sensible Redistricting: The legislature currently controls redistricting. This is a terrible idea. Districts for both the legislature and the U.S. Congress can and have been gerrymandered to keep incumbents in power. A retired panel of judges or some other worthy independent body could do just as good a job, and be more fair about it.
- A Larger Legislature: Enlarge the size of the House and Senate. New Hampshire has 400 members in its House of Representatives! Why not 200-300 here? Smaller districts means less money spent on each race (although more money is spent overall), and constituents may actually get to meet their representative. The larger the legislature is, the more accurately it will reflect the political makeup of the citizenry.
I believe these ideas could help make our government and our democratic system stronger, more accountable, more flexible and more reflective of the population. If we add these to sensible contracting and campaign finance reform, we could find our state government in much better shape than it is now.