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March 10th, 2010
06:00 AM ET

Gut check: Time to tweak the system?

By Ronni Berke, CNN

(CNN) – The latest flood of erring politicians once again has Americans scratching their heads.

With polls showing most Americans unhappy with the state of politics today – plagued by polarization and finger-pointing – it would make sense for elected representatives to fight to overcome that public image.

Many are, but there are more than a few who don’t seem to “get it.”

Case in point: In New York, Hiram Monserrate was actually booted out of the State Senate after he was convicted of a misdemeanor for assaulting his girlfriend. Yet Monserrate seems confident voters will re-elect him in a special election March 16th.

He’s even issued this warning to his critics in the state capitol: “I think it would be the pot calling the kettle black for anyone in government in Albany pointing a finger towards Hiram Monserrate.”

Some political observers are aghast, but not surprised, to hear this kind of talk from politicians.

“They're very quick at justifying actions most of us would have to apologize for,” says University of Virginia Professor Larry Sabato.

Rarely do politicians fade quietly into the night. South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford admitted to an affair and to lying to voters, but he has resisted calls to step down, confident of voter support.

“I'm not going to be railroaded out of politics by people who were never fans of me in the first place,” he said in August.

It's a battle cry long echoed by New York Rep. Charlie Rangel, who is accused of failing to pay taxes and violating House ethics rules. He finally stepped down as chairman of a powerful committee, but did not apologize or resign.

Some examples may beg the question: Is it time to tweak the system? Sabato believes so.

“The average voter would love to see through the persona projected by the consultants and the TV ads, but how do you do that?” One way, he says, is to consider expanding the number of representatives so that more congressmen represent fewer constituents.

Right now each member of the US Congress represents roughly 700,000 Americans, far too many voters for their elected representatives to get to know. So, instead of 435 House members, why not elect 10,000?

“The smaller the unit is the more likely that people would know the candidates and they'll vote not just on the basis of party, but on the basis of the character of the candidate,” says Sabato.

The idea is not new. It was first proposed by another U.S. politician – George Washington.

Filed under: Politics
soundoff (48 Responses)
  1. Arthur

    Time for term limits for Congress. 3 2 yr terms for reps and one 6 yr term for sens. Do away with retirement for them as well. Let the come and serve and then go home and back to their real jobs if they have them.

    March 22, 2010 at 11:28 am |
  2. jacknife

    NBA or NFL---36 have been accused of spousal abuse.7 have been arrested for fraud. 19 have been accused of writing bad checks .117 have directly or indirectly bankruped at least 2 businesses.3 have done time for assault. 71 cannot get a credit card due to bad credit. 14 have arrested on drug-related charges. 8 have been arrested for shoplifting. 21 currently are defendantsin lawsuits.84 have been arrested for drunk driving in the last year. give up ???. neither it,s the 435 members of the United States Congress. the same group of Idiots that crank out hundreds of new laws each year designed to keep the rest of us in line.

    March 19, 2010 at 8:46 pm |
  3. bill r

    its time we take Washington back, we need youth in Washington,not the senile

    March 17, 2010 at 2:31 pm |
  4. Martin K.

    It's pretty sad, because during the debates on the Constitution one delegate actually foresaw the House having 600 members within a century (a number we have never reached). The Constitution tells us we should have no more than one Representative per 30,000 citizens. Why would they put something like that in the Constitution if they didn't expect the House of Representatives to get bigger? The idea of more politicians is scary, but each one will better represent the resulting smaller districts and each one will have less influence.

    March 13, 2010 at 6:45 pm |
  5. Corban

    Both Chuck and Dane are right. Who should I use to represent me in commenting on this blog? No-one. I can do it for myself. The same goes for government. We could all make our own decisions. We don't need a representative to do it for us. Why do we need others do for us what we can now do for ourselves?

    March 10, 2010 at 7:22 pm |
  6. Kathy Pugerude

    I was disgusted with Congress before, but after that supposed health care reform conference with the President (which I could only stomach about 5 minutes of), I decided that I will not vote for any incumbents no matter which party they are from. Let's get rid of all of them and start over. We can't do any worse.

    March 10, 2010 at 2:00 pm |
  7. Amy

    Due to local legislature members refusing to produce a balanced budget as our State requires, the people that actually do the work of the State have been the target for balancing the budget.

    You want to add more paid vultures to the system to not represent the people?! It used to be a good job to be a government employee.

    I do the work of 4 people, but instead of a career path, I get pay cuts (furlough days, higher medical co-pays, banked leave time – with the IRS' permission). What's next? Tax the air we breathe to bring in revenue to pay the vultures?

    March 10, 2010 at 11:26 am |
  8. Tom from Vermillion, Ohio

    From our Declaration of Independance..."certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. —That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness."

    The above is an exact quote that could be said to be reason the why The United States of America came to be and then through time the most significant Nation on Earth, a Nation who as a whole genuinely cares for the wellness for it's Peoples and the Peoples of the world or so we were led to believe.

    The Declaration of Independance goes on to talk about tyranny and corruption, the essense of depravity of governments towards it's Peoples.

    Prudent research of events past and present clearly show that the government no longer has the best interests of the People at heart, that the agenda of the People's elected officials have their own agendas generally in the direction of wealthiest, not the Common People who elected them to office to represent.

    Is it time to restructure government and the rules by which it governs? It appears the question is upon us and due diligence is required to answer this question.

    March 10, 2010 at 9:28 am |
  9. Dave Paulson

    On the surface, I can see the merit in this idea. It does have a certain promise of bringing government closer to the people. But in practice, it's really rather silly. Our representative government was instituted to address the issues involved with communicating the voice of the people across a geographically diverse country. In case nobody's noticed, this is no longer an issue.

    We could achieve the desired end by developing a system that would allow the people to participate in direct government. The system would require a legislative staff to be retained for the purpose of writing the laws, but the conversation and ultimate approval of initiatives would occur through the engagement of the populous.

    March 10, 2010 at 8:56 am |
  10. Sharon Carroll

    Just what is it they represent anyway? Why do we need any of them to represent us? Why can't we represent ourselves? So I ask again, what is it they actually do that represents us that we cannot do for ourselves?

    March 10, 2010 at 8:54 am |
  11. Mark Hopkins

    We already have 10,000, all we have to do is dual hat the state reps, I am not sure of the numbers but at an average of at least 200 per state equals 10,000. The Feds can supplement their pay and provided equipment to vote from the state offices. You could then have a number of "senior" representitives who could go to DC once in a while for anything that can't be done on-line.

    March 10, 2010 at 8:47 am |
  12. Turley Hayes

    Tou are absolutely right. At one time each Us Representative represented 35,000 people. Great statesmen arose during thi era. The current priceedire for drawing distict lines OSS corrupt. It is a self enhancing process that allows the politicians themselves, thereby their contiuing to be re-elected. 10 000 is too may, But 1,000 would be right along with doubling the amount of Senators. Drastically reducing their benifits would also be productive. The rich get elected, the American peol should not make theim river. They also do Not need pensions from us, let them live on Social Security like the rest of us

    March 10, 2010 at 8:42 am |
  13. Mike Hartenstine

    Add a 4th branch of the government. A cyber-branch that consists of any tax paying citizen. With the current state of information technology I think this is possible. This is a step toward eliminating politicians and lobbyists. In the near term, let's say you could impeach or begin impeachment of any elected official. Think about that! In any event, this branch of government provides a check to politician behavior whether that behavior is how they vote or their personal behavior. A cyber-branch of government is probably democracy in it's truest form. The founding fathers didn't think your average citizen of the time was prepared to make informed decisions hence the smaller group of individuals in congress. Considering the current level of information technology and education in this country your average citizen is more than prepared to weigh in on all of these issues.

    Very respectfully,
    -Mike Hartenstine

    March 10, 2010 at 8:42 am |
  14. Lester

    There a much easiser way and no one would get more power than the law should allow, "Term Limits!" Two terms and "your out". Let's see how many people spend more money to get in office than the office pays then.

    March 10, 2010 at 8:42 am |
  15. Michael

    Hi Carol. . .If I could vote for your representative, and you could vote for mine, we could clear out the halls of Congress. . .we all pretty much all re-elect our own guy because the non-thinking voter is overwhelmed by the power of the incumbant through name recognition and the sheer dollars they have available for the campaign.

    I am disgusted by our elected officials and their imperial attitudes and the lip-service they give to ethics.

    I must say, I think it a bit disingenuous for CNN to do an article on rotten politicians when just last week you had Eliot Spitzer on for his expert analysis.

    March 10, 2010 at 8:40 am |
  16. Pete

    This just shows how we have tilted the ship so far toward Federal government that we can't even see we already have representatives much closer to the people – it's called State and local government!
    If we return the power to the states that belong properly in their sphere, then we solve many of the problems without adding one penny to the cost. It is as simple as return to Constitutional government!

    March 10, 2010 at 8:38 am |
  17. SC

    How about this; Their pay is based on what they actually do for us. If they don't work together and get things done, they don't get paid. Start tieing their salaries to items that need to be fixed and I'll bet you'll see them start working together.

    March 10, 2010 at 8:38 am |
  18. Fred

    Tweaking the system by adding more representatives sounds like a good solution to our government, because it actually mirrors successful corporations that add to their top management staff according to the growth of their corporation.

    March 10, 2010 at 8:37 am |
  19. Charlotte Goodson

    I have a couple of other suggestions about how to change the system...make the House of Representatives terms four years instead of two and have term limits. That way, they might get more work done for us, not having to be in permanent campaign mode.

    March 10, 2010 at 8:35 am |
  20. Sasha Toman

    Absolutely yes, increase the # of Reps. This is the ONLY way to decrease lobbyist influence and corruption (too many to buy off). Please keep on this important story, as the House will never dilute themselves by their own volition.

    March 10, 2010 at 8:34 am |
  21. Richard Rodriguez

    God forbid we put more politicians in Congress. We have an opportunity to show both parties the true power of voting. We need to have college graduates from all disciplines , no lawyers please, to run for Congress. No career politicians, but people who want to be true public servants. Not these elitists who believe they deserve all these non-sensical perks. We need term limits, no private bank funded with taxpayer dollars, no lifetime pensions and they need to contribute to their health insurance premiums. Just like regular folks!!!!

    March 10, 2010 at 8:10 am |
  22. Rinker

    Hiring 10,000 more politicians? The underlying problem most people in this country do not understand or are just choosing to ignore is that behind all those old men in office lies a sea of staff members!

    I have two questions: 1) Is there a limit on the number of staff members each politician in Washington can hire; and, 2) Exactly what does the person voted into office do?

    If you remove half or more of each politician's staff and used their salaries to help the average working American, how much would that save the country? Let the politicians do the work. Maybe if they were busy helping to improve this country, they would have less time to destroy it!

    It is embarrassing to watch grown men in office acting like 2 year olds, stamping their feet and taking temper tantrums. What does it say to the world when the people voted into office insult and argue with the President? Do you really think you are helping this country? No. We are all going to need YOUR health insurance coverage because you are making all of us sick!

    March 10, 2010 at 7:50 am |
  23. amy

    Wonder if Rep. Eric Massa is going to decline the health insurance that goes with his position when he leaves?

    March 10, 2010 at 7:40 am |
  24. ALLAN

    The cure for having snakes in your garden is NOT to add more snakes.

    March 10, 2010 at 7:23 am |
  25. Frank

    Public Financing of Campaigns. Transparancy but, Can you tell Americans the truth and have them believe it.

    March 10, 2010 at 7:17 am |
  26. Mike

    Yes I think it is time to tweak our political system(s)...I believe the structure in Washington is due for change and also at the state level here in NY.

    But to focus on Washington here are my suggestions...
    -President term...change to one – six year term. This will take the
    politics out of the end of the 1st term as the president runs for
    a 2nd term. I think we should put an upper age limit a person
    can run for president.....maybe 65.
    -Senate term.....currently six year term works but I think there
    should be a limit on terms.....maybe 4 – six yr terms. I also think
    there should be an age limit for retirement....say 75.
    -House Term...the current 2 yr term is is a waste of good
    peoples time to have to run every 2 yrs.... perpetual campaigning.
    I think house terms should be 4 yrs. I also think there should be
    a limit of 6 – four yr elected terms. I also think there should be an
    age limit for retirement....say 75.

    As for NYS....OMG what a mess.

    March 10, 2010 at 7:15 am |
  27. kent

    The last thing we need right now is more politicians. More politicians will give us more lobbyists, and more lobbyists will give us more corruption, less regulations, and bigger deficits. When george washington was around congress was a part time job. Members of congress still work part time but now get full time pay and benefits. Congress has an 18% approval rating because they don't listen to the voters. A good tweek would be to have voters take back their government. We need to vote out all the incumbents and elect politicians that will allow citizens the right to have referendums on the ballot. George and his crew did not give voters the right to have referendums. We now have a 65 trillion dollar national debt counting medicare and social security. This debt can never be repayed because the politicians we have don't want to govern they just want to run and re-run and re-run til the end of time. Congress is using madoff and enron type accounting to hide the fact that the u.s. has a negative budget balance more than the world gdp of 60 trillion dollars.

    March 10, 2010 at 7:15 am |
  28. Ronald Iocono

    I firmly believe our system is broken. A simple and right solution would be an Amendment for Term Limits for all elected officials. How about one 8 year term for both the Congress and the Senate. As for salary and benefits, give them $50,000/year and the same 401k plan most Americans have. Maybe we would see Professors practicing what they preach at our Universities. No more Run Up To Election. No more wasted Billions on Campaigning. This should also apply to our Judicial System. No more Life Time Bench seats. Make the Supreme Court an Elected Position. Take the Politics out of the Supreme Court. Let our Sitting Judges be elected on their records. It would also be nice if our Forth leg of Government worked as intended. That being the Free Press. I would like to see more Broken Government shows. Why was a Free Press so important? As a check on the corruption in Washington. You have failed. My Father was a WWII vet and as a child I didn't understand why he was so cynical. As I have aged, I find myself both angry and cynical of the system. Representative Massa was a true representative of his electorate. The Wind Farm Companies are bullying property owners in Western NY. Talk to Jim Hall of the Cohocton Wind Watch. Our own US Wind Maps show NY to be a poor site for Wind Farms. Not to mention the proven health risks to those forced to live near the towers. Why build? Because of the lucrative Tax Incentives and Billions of $$ in US Tax Payer Money up for grabs. Talk about WASTE !!

    March 10, 2010 at 7:14 am |
  29. Yvan

    Ms. Costello i see almost all your opinions and 100% sure that goverment is broken and Corrupted to the core, i don't think that its any remedy other than do like third world countrys tell the military to coup at least they are honest ,and will fix any problem w/congress and no more LOBBIYING ,AND WE CAN TRUST OUR MILITARY,they will clean up that mess in washington. You are a good reporter and analist and for i see you are a good looking Lady.

    March 10, 2010 at 7:13 am |
  30. Dave

    Increasing government size is always a bad idea, not just because of the cost as John had mentioned, but because nothing will ever get accomplished in Washington.

    So many of our government officials are already owned by special interest groups and lobbyists provided by Corporate America, not to mention the different unions that cripple our educational system and the economy. The more representatives there are involved in trying to represent their own special interest, the less the representatives will be able to come to agreement on any legislation in the future.

    We need two basic things in this country to start a turnaround and they are: 1. Shrink the government (1 senator and 2 representatives per state), 2. Reduce the amount of lobbyists and special interest groups.

    March 10, 2010 at 6:59 am |
  31. Patrick

    I would suggest not only increasing the number of representatives, but also using our advances in technology to give the representatives a better idea of what they should represent. We currently just have politicians run for election making empty promises on issues that they think the larger majority of the population wants to hear. They then proceed to vote however they want with no accountability until the next election time. Why not elect an official and use an electronic polling system on individual issues to indicate the position of each rep.'s population. It would be a relatively simple and low-cost operation that would take each willing citizen 30 seconds to complete. With so many having access to the internet in this day and time this seems pretty logical. And isn't the core principal of democracy the ability to have a say in government policy, etc.

    March 10, 2010 at 6:57 am |
  32. Rachel

    Our Government needs a complete overhaul, if only it needed a tweak. More representatives would make Government more accessible to the population and then maybe we would see how everyone really feels about things such as health care. The Government is there to lobby for it's people not to protect corporations that can hire people to "lobby", or cut deals behind closed doors. If we can't depend on them to fight for us why do we continue to vote them in office?

    March 10, 2010 at 6:53 am |
  33. Ben

    This is one of the most ingenious ideas I've ever heard. How could special interests afford to buy off that many people? Especially, when there would be a small number of constituents watching each representative. They should also once again have Senators elected by the state legislators (not the population) in order to strengthen states rights. While they're at it, they should cut their benefits, pay, and retirement programs. None of these things would ever happen though because it decentralizes power, which is not what those with the power want.

    March 10, 2010 at 6:51 am |
  34. Dane

    Representatives are not necessary at all. In the early stages of our expanding country, representatives were instituted because every person could no longer travel to the town hall, hear the debate, and cast their own vote. With today's technology, every individual can again examine both sides of an issue and make their own decision from their own home, making representatives an unnecessary part of government.

    March 10, 2010 at 6:47 am |
  35. Arnold J. Meagher

    To correct the problem of elected officials at all levels voting the interests of big money above the interests of the people, voters should ask all candidates for public office to pledge not to accept handouts of any kind from corporations while they are representing those who elected them.

    March 10, 2010 at 6:43 am |
  36. Chuck

    A representative democracy is the government we chose because a direct democracy wasn't logical in a time when messages took days to deliver. In the age we live in now it's possible to have voters decide what measures to pass if there was an online voting method developed. we don't need representatives at all.

    March 10, 2010 at 6:43 am |
  37. Roxsena Charise

    Tweak away, please!

    March 10, 2010 at 6:41 am |
  38. SP

    Morn Carol-I've heard worse ideas. There is some logic to this one but the cost of running such a body could be astronomical so the new electees would need to accept lower pay and scaled down benefits! Poetic justice

    March 10, 2010 at 6:38 am |
  39. Ariana Gordillo

    A rise to 10,000 of Representatives is ridiculous. We don't have the budget for it, and nothing would get done. Also, if you really want to get to know your representative, you will make the effort to go to one of their town hall meetings. It is not IMPOSSIBLE to meet your representative. This is just an excuse to complain about bad representative choices.

    March 10, 2010 at 6:36 am |
  40. Joseph Starwood

    Increasing the number of representatives may decrease the size of the constituency. However, we must remember the law of unintended consequences. We may also get more lobbyists, more political ads, and more pork barrel projects.

    March 10, 2010 at 6:36 am |
  41. Paul

    Yes. Seeing now how one senator can have some much power these days having more congressmen/senators would give the indiviual politician less power and would serve better representation.

    March 10, 2010 at 6:35 am |
  42. paul huylebroeck


    March 10, 2010 at 6:35 am |
  43. John Griffin

    I think we should do away with the party system. Have complely open elections. The 2 party system has given us the "best government money can buy."

    March 10, 2010 at 6:34 am |
  44. Patrick

    While it might sound crazy, I agree that maybe we need more politicians. It stands to reason that more people=more representatives. And maybe, just maybe, we could cut their salary a bit to compensate for more positions (although good luck trying to get that through).

    March 10, 2010 at 6:34 am |
  45. Gary L Brooks

    I Say Fire them and Keep fireing them untill they get it. They Work For US not the other way Around. And take BIG MONEY out of the Equasion it is all cruppting

    March 10, 2010 at 6:34 am |
  46. KriticalChris

    I absolutely think the system needs to be changed. Our representatives are far too out of touch with what Americans really want from their government.

    March 10, 2010 at 6:33 am |
  47. Todd

    How Absurd!! What we need is LESS politicians that would answer to MORE accountability with TERM LIMITS. We need to fire them all and use our technology to DIRECTLY vote for our laws and regulations and remove these corrupt middle men from the equation. It's scary that CNN would even entertain such an idea while looking over other alternatives.

    March 10, 2010 at 6:33 am |
  48. Larry Slattery

    Why not run representation like the jury system and send 'real' people to congress?

    March 10, 2010 at 6:32 am |