A Cook County, Illinois native, John Cox grew up in Chicago. “There are Republicans in Cook County”, he assured his audience. Despite the liberal background of his parents (mother was a Chicago public school teacher; his step-father was a postal worker), Cox moved to the right, supporting free markets, free enterprise, and individual liberty. Following his education and service as an attorney, Cox moved to Florida then California to further his real estate career. Despite the massive downturn in the national fortunes, and particularly in California, Cox made his home in sunny California, finding out what he was missing out on.
After sharing about his political activities (he ran against Obama three times for state office), Cox introduced his new initiative, entitled the Neighborhood Legislature initiative, which would expand the number of California’s elected legislators from 80 to 8000 assemblymembers and from 40 to 4000 state senators.
When Cox had first introduced the plan on the Jon and Ken Show, they shouted a collective “What?!” After thirty minutes with the tough-talking conservatives, they endorsed the idea as one of the greatest they had ever heard.
So, why send more people to Sacramento? Critics may ask.
Actually, the voters will not be sending more lawmakers to Sacramento, but instead each current state senate and assembly district would be divided up into one hundred neighborhoods, representing between 3,000-5,000 people.
Instead of grasping for funds from labor unions, interests groups, and big corporations, individual candidates will only have to reach three thousand voters. Big money isn’t necessary to win, since candidates will can knock on doors, sit in living rooms, and talk with voters.
Where did Cox get this idea from? “Live Free or Die” New Hampshire, where 1.5 million residents send 400 representatives to the legislature every year. Everyone know everyone else in their separate districts. The people who run for office include retired professionals and stay-at-home Moms who have raised their kids and now want to raise the standard of living for their communities and the state.
Some points worth considering about New Hampshire. The most swing of swing states and highly influential in Presidential politics, the state boasts no general sales or income tax. Also, least restrictive gun laws, and the right to revolution is codified in the state constitution! A libertarian paradise, New Hampshire likely owes its limited government to the massive army of legislators who keep a check on power.
So, how would this Neighborhood Legislature work in California?
Cox explained that in every district with one hundred neighborhood reps, the elected officials (each receiving a one thousand dollar stipend) would elect one member to go to Sacramento. Will the lawmakers in the capital would write laws, they would then pass the bills to every local legislature in the state, and nothing would pass onto the Governor’s desk without a majority vote from all 12,000 representatives.
Smaller districts would require local leaders to engage their voters, know their names, and in turn encourage voters to get involved, since casting a vote out of a few thousand can be more influential than competing among millions of voters, and wondering the whole time whether your vote really counts or not.
Wouldn’t money still influence the process?
Cox referred back to New Hampshire, where big spenders don’t have a big influence in elections. “Voters look at you funny” if you spend lots of money. “Why would I vote for someone who sent me a mailer when another candidate knocked on my door?”
A pattern for real representative Democracy, Cox argued that the Neighborhood Legislature initiative would be the biggest transfer of power back to the people since 1776.
Any reform which promotes individual involvement while diminishing the power of pay-to-play politics can’t be a bad thing. California definitely could use reforms which frustrate power at the top by expanding it at the bottom.
For more information on the Neighborhood Legislature initiative, please visit