With each passing year, it becomes increasingly clear that to preserve American democracy in any meaningful way, we must roll up our sleeves and do a multifaceted housecleaning and implement much-needed reforms.
I don’t think it takes a political science guru to see what is desperately wrong with our political system: money. First, there should be a limit on campaign spending for all federal and state elections – something comparable to Britain’s, perhaps even more restrictive.
Second, the duration of state and national election campaigns should be significantly shortened. In India, for example, electoral campaigns take place over a period of two weeks between the announcement of the final list of candidates and the date of the poll.
PR firms and mass media might not like the loss of revenue in such short campaign seasons. But isn’t two weeks enough for candidates to tell the public about their background and where they stand on the issues? Perhaps less time to settle down, procrastinate and scramble the airwaves?
Shortened campaigns could also contribute to the mental health of many people, which since the advent of COVID-19 seems to be in a rather delicate state.
Third, the electoral college should be abolished. Gerrymandering has skewed the political landscape to the point that state “voters” do not always represent the will of the voters. A popular vote, or “one person, one vote,” should be the only measure of a candidate’s victory or defeat.
Fourth, voting procedures for national elections in all states must be the same to ensure that all elections are fair and verifiable. If a certain voting machine is used in certain states, the same type of machine must be used in all states. Early voting and mailing procedures should be uniform across all states. Vote counting, administration and reporting of election results should be standardized across all states. Election observers should be a non-partisan group of appointed officials.
Election day should be a public holiday so that citizens who, for various reasons, cannot leave work or cannot vote before or after work, have the opportunity to vote. Polling stations should be placed in enough places to avoid the long lines that discourage people from voting. Voters who do not have proper ID should have an easy way to apply for state-approved ID cards.
Fifth, term limits would solve the problem of “career politicians” who obstruct everything the opposing political party wants to do as an art form and who devote most of their time and energy to re-election. One suggestion would be two terms (12 years) for US Senators and four terms (8 years) for US Representatives. Presidents, for God’s sake, only get two terms.
Sixth, legislation introduced by the Biden administration to allow Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices should be passed. It’s blocked by Republicans, and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see where their campaign meal tickets are coming from.
Last, and certainly not least, there is the need for major reform in public education. Funding through property taxes in local jurisdictions has resulted in huge inequities in school facilities, staff, and programs. The current federal allocation and grants per student vary widely from state to state. In poorer states and local jurisdictions with low or almost non-existent tax bases, this allocation should be adjusted upwards so that these schools come into parity with schools in wealthier areas. Every public school across the United States should be as good as the best school to meet an established standard.
Universal pre-K education should be federally funded. Two years of community college should be paid for by the federal government, and college loan forgiveness should be instituted. Emphasis should be placed on skills training for 21st century jobs and careers, including skills training in green energy technologies.
If we want to stay competitive in the world, we will find a way to pay for these ambitious educational initiatives. Raising taxes on the wealthiest one to five percent of Americans will go a long way toward funding education. Do we want to invest in a major overhaul of education, or hire more police, judges and build more prisons?
As Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “Democracy can only succeed if those who express their choice are willing to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy is therefore education.
Much of what I propose was introduced in Congress recently and defeated by Republicans and a few nonconforming Democratic Senators. The elephant in the room is that with our nation’s changing demographics, or what some call the “browning of America,” Republicans are being selective about who they want to vote for.
Thus, enactment of campaign finance, elections, voting rights, term limits and other aforementioned measures is highly unlikely. Too much money is at stake and power has a grip on our politicians, as well as the lobbyists and special interests that control them. Even the most casual observer can see that the American system is primarily rigged for the wealthy, which amounts to nothing less than a stranglehold on our democracy.
Still, these issues may be worth mentioning. Maybe one day those in power will put our country ahead of their own professional interests. Perhaps they will have enough courage and conviction to plead for the return of our government to its founding principle: “of the people, by the people and for the people”.
I should add that the above actions and reforms do not jeopardize our free market economic system as some conservatives claim. In fact, they would ultimately result in a general strengthening of our population that would add vigor and dynamism to the economic juggernaut we call capitalism.
But I’m sure none of this will happen in my lifetime. I hope, however, that American democracy – the most ingenious system of government ever devised – is alive and well for our children and grandchildren.
Frank E. Baker is a longtime Alaskan and freelance writer living in Eagle River.
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