Monday, 10 February 2003

More Lords Reform

Jacob T. Levy has the scoop on the latest discussions in blog-world (from Iain Murray and Michael Jennings) on the abject failure of Lords reform in Britain to get anywhere. (I meant to post on it earlier but got distracted by bright, shiny objects.) The telling sentence:

Now that the traditional British constitution has been abolished, with astonishingly little debate and no clear sense of what to replace it with, that's proving to be a real disadvantage.

Incidentally, upper houses in general have proved themselves rather pointless without either federalism or feudalism as a justification. Take U.S. states for example, post-Baker v. Carr (369 U.S. 186)*: one state (Nebraska) has abolished its upper house, while the rest just plod along with an upper house that's smaller but otherwise elected on the same basis of representation (single member districts, first-past-the-post) as the lower house. While this arrangement does preserve the check of requiring both bodies to agree, it's not clear how much of a check this is as a practical matter (free grad student paper idea: compare the rate of passage of legislation in the Nebraska legislature to a bicameral state).

It seems to me that proportional representation (either pure PR, or the “top-off” form used in Britain's subnational legislatures that still allows some districts) is the ideal solution for making upper houses more relevant: it also has the bonus (if you go for pure PR) of not requiring redistricting fights. Even regional PR might be a good idea — states like Mississippi and Tennessee that have notable sub-state regions (the three Supreme Court districts of Mississippi and Tennessee's Grand Divisions) could use them as the basis for regional lists, apportioning the seats by population.

The downside is that it would probably lead to more partisan state legislatures, so PR Senates may only be desirable in states that already have strongly partisan legislatures — so Tennessee would probably be a reasonable case, while Mississippi may not be.

Previous discussion here.

* Baker v. Carr and its successors invalidated the apportionment of legislative chambers in the United States on any basis other than population under the 14th Amendment's Equal Protection Clause, with the sole exception of the U.S. Senate (whose apportionment is specified in the Constitution in a particularly airtight fashion).

Campaign Themes

To elaborate some from the announcement, here are some of the themes I hope to bring up during the campaign (some of which will make little sense if you live outside the district):

Limiting state spending

This year, Mississippi will spend $3.6 billion, most of which comes directly from citizens' pockets. In the past few weeks, our legislators have passed a $236 million budget increase for education, an increase of over 11% above what was planned for 2003, and they don't have a clue where the extra money is going to come from in the long term — the tobacco trust fund and casino taxes aren't a bottomless well of revenue, despite popular belief to the contrary.

To keep state spending on an even keel, and to help ensure Mississippi remains a business-friendly, low-tax state, we need additional constraints on taxing and spending — specifically, we need a Taxpayers' Bill of Rights (TABOR) Amendment that limits state and local spending growth without voters' approval. It's worked well in Colorado and it can work in Mississippi. (For more details on how Colorado's TABOR works, see this white paper by Nashville journalist Bill Hobbs.)

Keeping the judiciary accountable

Much has been made over the past few years over the increasing cost and politicization of judicial campaigns in our state. Some legislators, including my opponent, argue that we should solve this perceived problem by having our governor appoint the Supreme Court. However, it is unlikely that the actual effect would be to depoliticize the court; rather, it would encourage governors to appoint justices who share their politics. Even though the system my opponent proposes would include a retention vote every eight years, replacing the competitive elections we have today, The open and vigorous campaigns we have today are essential for voters to make informed decisions; retention elections, by comparison, would put incumbent justices at a much greater advantage and remove their decisions further from public view and debate.

Ending “Jackpot Justice”

Our state has become widely perceived as a venue for “jackpot justice” — the use of frivolous or exaggerated legal claims to gain large settlements and jury awards against Mississippi and out-of-state businesses. While the tort reform package passed in 2002's special session is a good first step, we need more comprehensive tort reform efforts to discourage “venue shopping” by litigants and stronger rules on certification of class actions. At the same time, we need to make sure that citizens who have suffered real harm retain access to the court system.

Improving Transportation

Mississippi is working with federal officials to designate two new Interstate highways through our state: Interstate 69 through the Delta, passing through Clarksdale, and Interstate 22 across the northern part of our state, passing through Tupelo. Connecting those two highways is Mississippi 6, the main artery through this district. If elected, I will work with MDOT and our federal officials to complete the four-laning of Highway 6 from Clarksdale to Tupelo, including a new southern bypass of Batesville, upgrading the West Jackson intersection in Oxford to an interchange, and improving the safety of Oxford's dangerous Highway 7 interchange.

I will also work with federal and state transportation officials to complete the northwest loop of Oxford to improve access to Highway 6 and Jackson Avenue from Old Sardis Road and College Hill. Also, I will pursue additional funding to repair and replace rural bridges in Lafayette, Panola and Tallahatchie counties.

This listing is preliminary and subject to later revision.

Sekimori to Ben: Get a clue

Sekimori has some sage words of advice for Ben Affleck regarding “Little Miss Thang” aka J-Lo... not that he's going to listen. (Via VodkaMan.)