This letter to the editor started out as a complaint about the sorry state of our roads. After unavoidably hitting a particularly large pothole, I was ticked off that I would need to get my car realigned just because of that pothole. Upon thinking about it, though, I realized that the sorry state of our roads and the potholes are just one symptom of far more serious issues.
That more serious problem is that we have lost our republic, and yes, I use the word "republic," not "democracy." We are guaranteed by the Constitution a republican form of government. Specifically, we are supposed to have a "representative republican form of government," which is where we vote for our representatives to govern for we the people.
A democracy is direct rule by the people directly, as in the individual citizens voting directly for their government's budget and laws. The only place in the U.S. that democracy has ever existed is in the towns of New England, where the entire budget and all its provisions get voted on by the citizens themselves.
A traditional "town hall" meeting is not where people get to together to just talk about the issues. No, it's where the citizens vote themselves what their local town tax levy will be, how much is spent for police, fire, road repairs, snow removal and anything else pertinent.
Wisconsin, though originally settled by New Englanders, has never had that type of government. I felt the need to clarify because people and especially political campaigns throw around words like "democracy," "republican" and "town hall meeting" without regard to their actual meeting.
Since the 1880s, Congress has slowly been delegating its authority and power away to the executive branch. Every time Congress passes a bill and delegates rulemaking authority to the executive branch bureaucrats instead of hashing out the specifics themselves, we get further away from having a republic and instead something that just looks like a republic.
Congress is supposed to be the first branch of government. That is why the first article of the Constitution establishes the Congress.
Congress' primary power is to control the federal purse. Unfortunately, the last comprehensive audit of our federal government that provided a complete snapshot of oru government's finances was in 1992.
Yes, there is always a "rolling" audit of the federal government happening all the time in which only a portion of the federal government gets audited. The problem with a "rolling" audit is that any financial inconsistencies can just get "moved" and "lent" to a part of the federal government that is not getting audited that year. Those financial inconsistencies of our tax dollars that get moved around like a shell game amount to hundreds of billions of our dollars every year.
Also, for a representative of a republic to work, each representative needs to have a reasonable number of constituents to represent. Originally, the founding fathers set that number at 60,000 people per representative. At our present population, that would be untenable, but hold that thought. We still have an even bigger problem to tackle.
The next set of problems is that our elected members of the House of Representatives only work at their job for 20 hours per week when Congress is in session. Congress has averaged only 138 days in session per year since 2001. And for that part-time job we are paying them a salary of $174,000 plus a fabulous benefits package that includes free health care, full pension after 12 years, and 26 round-trip airline tickets annually.
So what on God's green Earth are they spending all their time doing? Having mistresses? Well, some people are doing that, but mostly, our elected officials spend most of their time raising (begging) for campaign contributions so they can keep their powerful part-time job.
When new members of Congress first arrive in Washington, D.C., the leadership of both political parties lays down the rules. Most of their time must be spent calling campaign donors. Only 15 hours per week is to be spent working on their committee assignments and only five hours per week is to be spent dealing with their constituents' concerns. Yikes!
So, how do we the people get our republic back?
For a start, why not make receiving any campaign contribution over $250 per two-year election cycle a felony for bribery, with a mandatory prison sentence. Recently, a Republican congressman from somewhere down south introduced such a bill in the House of Representatives.
Repeal the Reapportionment Act of 1929 and instead have every congressional representative represent a maximum of 300,000 constituents. That would put the membership of the House of Representatives roughly 1,200, which is approximately the size of the Legislature for New Hampshire. Yes, a large, but still doable amount.
Finally, the federal government needs a comprehensive audit. Now.
None of these issues are sexy, nor do they fuel the culture wars. Maybe we just need to simply take care of our republic.
Mary Pat Barnett-Lewis
Stone Lake, Wis.