California state Sen. Robert Dutton (R-Rancho Cucamonga) holds his head in his hands during a budget negotiating session of the state Senate on Feb. 17, 2009 in Sacramento.
California is the largest American state, but proportionally it has the smallest legislature.
This mean Californians get far less legislative representation than other Americans. The average lower-house district in the U.S. has about 50,000 residents. California Assembly district is nearly 10 times larger, with almost 500,000 residents.
Is this a problem?
Not if you judge by the proposals to reform the legislature that are offered by elected officials and outside groups.
These proposals, embodied in initiatives, proceed from the view that the legislature has too much power and does too many things. So reformers suggest making the legislature part-time. Or restricting its ability to raise taxes or manage the budget.
The initiatives recently filed in hopes of making next November's ballot follow this pattern.
In this context, one newly filed initiative stands out. It proposes fixing the legislature more powerful and more representative by making it larger.
A lot larger.
John Cox, a Republican politician from Illinois who has relocated to the San Diego area, suggests that each state senate district contain only 10,000 people and each assembly district contain only 5,000 people. With California's current population, that would mean a state senate of 3,800 and an assembly of 7,600.
Cox doesn't propose sending all those people to Sacramento. His legislators would elect 120 of their own number to a working committee, that would conduct legislative business.
It's a complex proposal, with political and policy drawbacks. But it's also new--and responsive to a real problem: the lack of representation. And that makes it a vast improvement on many of the ideas touted as legislative reform.