Ken Plum: Systemic changes to government needed

While there are a myriad of issues facing government, some advocacy groups are working on changes to the basic way government works as a fundamental means to respond to a host of issues. There are many such advocacy organizations; this column describes a few.

ken plumProbably most people would agree with the contention that “there is too much money in politics!” If the influence of big money could be removed from political campaigns and from the legislative process, we would have better government and many issues would be resolved. Every Voice (EveryVoice.org) is an organization addressing this issue. In its most recent survey of candidates running in Virginia elections the group introduced its survey by stating that “People of all political stripes believe politicians are influenced by their dependency on wealthy donors and therefore don’t always act in the public interest. This perception fuels cynicism and drives distrust of politicians and our government.” Every Voice goes on to point out that “Virginia is one of just a handful of states with absolutely no contribution limits on what wealthy and corporate donors can give to candidates running for office.”

At the same time, there are states and cities like Maine, Arizona, and Connecticut that have made reforms in campaign financing providing candidates the opportunity to raise money for their campaigns through small donations and limited public funds if they agree not to accept big donations. I support such a movement in Virginia. While my political stance on issues has never attracted big donors, I would support a statutory limit on the size of donations, especially those from corporations. While this action is important for Virginia, it is even more critical at the federal level to limit corporate contributions in elections.

Another group working in Virginia to bring about systemic change to the way the government operates is OneVirginia2021 (OneVirginia2021.org) that focuses on legislative redistricting. Under the present system of drawing legislative district boundaries in Virginia and in most states, the organization contends legislators pick their voters rather than the voters picking their legislators. Known for years as “gerrymandering” as boundary lines are drawn around friendly voters to ensure the outcome of elections, OneVirginia2021 has adopted the term “gerryrigged” to describe the same activity. Their documentary by the same name explains the process and its impact on election outcomes and legislative activity (GerryRIGGED).

In the early 1980’s I worked with Common Cause, another organization that proposes basic changes to improve governance, on this issue and introduced the first bill in Virginia and one of the first in the nation to propose that an independent, non-partisan commission be given the responsibility of drawing legislative district lines after each federal census. OneVirginia2021 has done a remarkable job of informing citizens and of enlisting voter support for candidates who support independent and non-partisan redistricting.

Working on individual issues facing the government and society is very important. Equally as important is working on reforms that would make our government work better.

Ken Plum is a member of the Virginia House of Delegates.

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