by Richard Girard
I was sitting at my computer the other day, playing solitaire, hoping for some inspiration to write a new article, when Marge, my fairy godmother showed up.
I hadn't seen Marge since I made my last wish, right after my mother's death from lung cancer. She was looking tired, and a little more careworn than the last time I'd seen her. However, she had a smile on her face I don't think you could have removed with an axe. Although, anyone using an axe on a six inch high fairy would have to be seen as at best ludicrous, at worst a bloodthirsty act of savagery.
"Hey, kid," she said, with her bizzarre contralto voice that could calm a stampeding herd of rhinos and peel paint off a battleship, all at the same time, "I'm back." Marge hitched up her work coveralls, brushed a little soot from her left wing, and continued, "The rate of death from all cancers has declined in this country for two consecutive years, and should continue dropping for three more years unless that fascist in the White House drops the Bomb. Exactly as per our last agreement. I wasn't so sure I could do it, but by the Fates I did! Thanks for the challenge!"
"You're welcome, Marge. It is always a pleasure to deal with someone who loves their work. I have another wish, but I would suggest you might want to take a vacation before you start on it."
"Sounds interesting, kid," Marge replied, "What do you want this time? A wild affair with a gorgeous movie star? The winning Powerball numbers? Super Bowl tickets?"
"No. I want to change the structure of the Federal Government, including some amendments to the Constitution."
I heard Marge whistling a couple of bars of the "Internationale" under her breath, while she looked at me as if she were expecting a punch line to follow. After a few seconds she said, "Are you serious?"
"Absolutely," I replied.
"Ah, me little boy's all grown up, and ready to become a revolutionary," Marge said, with tears in her eyes.
I should probably explain here that one of Marge's previous charges had been a member of the International Workers of the World, or Wobblies. While she was with him, she learned about Marx, Engels, Lenin, Trotsky, Fourier, Saint-Simon, Reed, Goldman and the rest. He had died fighting in Spain with the Abraham Lincoln Brigade.
"No, nothing so extreme. You know I have always been more of an evolutionary than a revolutionary. That as far as being a Marxist, I much prefer Groucho to Karl; and I detest the violence promulgated by Lenin and his ilk. It inevitably leads to the rise of men like Stalin and Robespierre," I replied, watching her face going emotionally indeterminate,"Sorry to disappoint you."
"Oh, I'm not really disappointed," the smile returning to her face, "and of course you are right about violence. All it got Bill was an unmarked grave in Spain. And he was even morally right about resisting the Falangists and their Nazi and Fascist allies. Communist duplicity ruined any chance for the Spanish Republicans in that civil war. Okay, so how do you want to do this?"
I knew Bill was a bit of a sore point for Marge. He had sent her to get his lover and her family out of the way of a Falangist column when he bought the farm, so I was happy to change the subject.
"Number one, I believe that the President's ability to pardon-under Article One, Section Two of the Constitution-should be limited to those who have been convicted, or have pled guilty to their crimes."
"How about people who plead nolo contendere," Marge asked?
"I would prefer a requirement of an admission of guilt before they are pardoned, but I can be flexible on the subject," I answered, "I really hate the idea of some future Ollie North-type screaming their innocence on television because they have not admitted their guilt to the American people, and they have received a Presidential pardon."
"Mr. North claims that he was found 'not guilty'" Marge said.
"No, the bastard was convicted, then his conviction was overturned on appeal, and then the George H.W. Bush administration 'terminated' the prosecution, i.e., decided not to retry the case. I think this was the equivalent of Al Capone terminating a trial against Frank Nitti. The pardon of Caspar Weinberger at the end of the Bush Administration-before he was even tried-is, in my mind, confirmation of that fact."
"Your metaphor is a bit of a stretch, but it does seem wrong that a possible co-conspirator can pardon a person before a trial that might well show he was a co-conspirator. What else?" Marge asked.
"Next, we need to increase the number of representatives in the House. I would suggest at least a doubling of the current number."
"What are your reasons for this increase?"
"When the current number of seats for members of Congress was set in the first decade of the Twentieth Century, the population of the United States was about 87,000,000 people. This meant that there was approximately one representative for every 200,000 people. That proportion is now almost 700,000 people per representative. I think Congress would be more responsive to the will of the American people if we reduced that proportion to between 300 and 350,000 per representative."
"It would also water down the corrupting influence of corporations: suddenly it would make 'buying' an individual Congressperson less effective. Finally, we could reduce the number of committees that a Congressperson has to sit on, so they could concentrate on one or two areas of the nation's business, rather than three or more. This would also reduce the need for the multitude of subcommittees that have come into existence since the early 1970's"
"Fortunately," I continued. "This is something that can be done without amending the Constitution, and simply requires a change of Federal law."
"I can hear a cacophony of complaints that there are not that many qualified individuals to run for Congress," Marge opined.
"I suspect that the vast majority of those who would be opposed are elitists, people who have undue influence under the current system, or Congresspeople who think their 'prestige' will be reduced," I replied, "I believe that laws shortening the electoral season and requiring the public financing of all Federal elections (more on that later) will take care of all of the real problems of finding qualified individuals. I think a petition signed by one percent of the registered voters in a Congressional District is all that should be required to get on the ballot."
"Article I, Section Two of the Constitution already places a lower limit of 30,000 people per Congressional District. If Congress does nothing about increasing its number of representatives, perhaps we will need to amend the Constitution setting an upper limit of 400,000 or so for the number of people in a district. That would mandate an increase of more than 300 members at the time of the next Census."
"The next change will require a Constitutional amendment: I think each state should have three Senators."
"Why in the hell increase the number of Senators?" asked Marge.
"First," I replied, "It will increase the responsiveness of the Senate to the people of the individual states of our Federal Republic, by lessening the workload of individual Senators by one-third. Secondly, it will compensate the smallest states, in terms of the Electoral College, for their proportional loss of electoral votes when the House's membership doubles. Finally, it means that each state will be electing one of their Senators every two years, so that changes in the make up of the Senate will more accurately reflect the current temper of the people in a particular state, as well as the United States as a whole."
"Wait, you're going to keep the Electoral College? Why not go to direct election of the President and Vice-President by popular vote?"
"Because, Marge, I don't believe that is possible at the current time. The thirteen smallest states effectively have a veto on eliminating the Electoral College. Those thirteen states have only five or six percent of the population, but around eight or nine percent of the Electoral College votes. They represent twenty-six percent of the vote of the states who must ratify an amendment to the Constitution, and I don't believe they would allow any Constitutional Amendment that lessens their electoral power further."
"It takes thirty-eight states to ratify an Amendment to the Constitution, the three-quarters of the states requirement of Article V. I think a possible amelioration for this situation could be the elimination of the current winner take all policy for Electoral votes in the individual states. Instead, the electoral votes due a state because of its Senators should be given to the winner statewide, but the electors whose vote represents a state's Congressional Districts should be required to vote the way their Congressional District voted. For example, here in Colorado in 2004, Bush would have received seven electoral votes, and Kerry would have received two. I believe, that while it is not as good of a system to represent the will of the American people as direct election, it will certainly be far more representative than the current system. I think it will also make it harder for groups to commit voter fraud."
"Certainly, if I thought it had a chance of passing, I would favor an Amendment requiring the direct election of the President and Vice-President. It would probably be useful for Congress to pass such an Amendment, with an open end for ratification, as there was for the XXVIIth Amendment. Sooner or later it will pass."
"Okay," Marge said, "we have: limiting the President's power to pardon individuals, doubling the number of seats in the House of Representatives, increasing the number of Senators from two to three per state, and changing the way Electoral votes for President and Vice President are counted. And some half formed idea about public funding of elections. You have any other bright ideas, kid?"
"You got any beer in this dump? Oh yeah, that's right, you ain't much of a drinker. Well before we continue this, I need a beer. Is there a liquor store around here?" Marge inquired.
"Yeah, down the street and around the corner. But, Marge, it's Sunday, they're closed."
"Not for me they aren't. I'll be back in ten."
And Marge disappeared.