If the crisis in American democracy had a capital, it would be Los Angeles.
This may be news to Americans who, in worrying about the nation’s democratic decline, obsess about developments in Washington, pronouncements from Mar-a-Lago, or election-related legislation in purple states. But in fact it is L.A. — the nation’s most populous county — that best demonstrates the most fundamental failure of our democracy.
Democracy in this country starts with elected representation, and we Angelenos have less of it than Americans in the other 49 states. Angelenos are often accused of not paying attention to government and politics. But perhaps that’s because our politicians don’t pay attention to us. They are too distant from us to represent us effectively.
In the city of Los Angeles, population four million-plus, there are just 15 city councilmembers. That means each councilmember represents 270,000 people, the highest such ratio in the country. At the county level, L.A. is even less democratic, with just five elected supervisors to represent 10.3 million people — those two-million-person local districts are among the largest in the world.
At the state level, Angelenos have the misfortune of being Californians, who suffer under America’s least democratically representative state government. Our state Senate districts, with nearly one million people each, and our Assembly districts, with 500,000 Californians each, are the largest in the country.
And if that’s not outrageous enough, look at Washington. Californians, with just two senators, have the lowest level of representation in the democratic fraud scheme that is the U.S. Senate. The House of Representatives, by guaranteeing one seat to even small states, gives Wyoming three times the electoral power of Californians. And with San Francisco kid Stephen Breyer’s retirement, there is not a single Californian on the nation’s real ruling body, the unelected U.S. Supreme Court.
This sorry state of democratic representation is is undermining trust in government. In order to get elected in districts of such size and scale, our representatives must more pay attention to those who can fund their massive campaigns. That, in turn, explains why people with less wealth or fewer connections — especially women and people of color — are so badly underrepresented in elected office.
The answer to this problem is straightforward: massively expand the number of our representatives at every level. That way, each elected official would represent a smaller number of people. And creating more positions would open doors for people with more diverse backgrounds and less attachment to political careers.
The good news is that there is real momentum for change here. L.A. city attorney Mike Feuer, now running for mayor, has called for doubling the size of the Los Angeles City Council. At …….