Congressional reapportionment, an orgy of partisan revenge and blatant self-interest mandated every ten years by our Constitution, proved particularly ugly in 1992. In Tennessee, Texas, and other states, judges required minority-dominated districts be carved out to insure representation to blacks and Hispanics. The results left even Governor Gerry turning over in his grave. New electoral districts took on grotesque shapes, as railroad tracks and creekbeds were used to bring scattered enclaves of “persons-of-color” into contiguous zones.

As agrarians, the Constitution’s authors assumed that people occupying the same land area would develop common values and concerns. Indeed, in crafting the representation structure of the federal government (senators chosen by state legislatures and contiguous districts for seats in the House of Representatives), these men behaved as early bioregionalists. They shared an implicit faith in the power of geologic and biological environments to overcome differences of race, language, and religion and to shape meaningful communities of interest.

Not too many decades had passed, though, before partisan squabbling had partially subverted this vision. More recently, two developments have completely undermined it. First, members of Congress have emerged primarily as ombudsmen, officials who investigate and resolve citizens’ complaints against the government. The complexity of federal regulation, tied to the munificence of government checks, favors, and exemptions, has turned “lawmakers” into problem-solvers and fairy godmothers for the constituents back home. Indeed, viewed cynically, members of Congress now have a strong vested interest in government confusion and size, encouraging them to create problems they can then “solve.” Second, the concept of “group rights” defined in terms of race, language, or religion rather than area has gained considerable legal ground. While pretending to deny such distinctions, modern American law is rapidly moving toward a system of special privileges based on skin color and ancestry. “Race determination boards” are already a feature here, and they will undoubtedly grow in prominence, driven by each new civil rights statute. Moreover, the Senate no longer serves as a meaningful brake on federal usurpation of the authority of the staves. Since 1913, state legislatures have had no linkage to the senators “serving” them, and these independent senators blithely approve the federal mandates (such as Medicaid) that are destroying the last shreds of budgetary and programmatic autonomy in the states. To top it all off, voters are mad as hell, no longer believing that they are represented in Washington.

It’s time, I suggest, to acknowledge the failure of the existing scheme and to consider alternate strategies of federal representation. I propose two constitutional changes that would empower the states relative to the federal government, strengthen a positive regionalism, enhance accountability, eliminate the incentive to greater government complexity and growth, and allow for a more honest expression of “group rights” and minority representation.

First, repeal the 17th Amendment. This offspring of an earlier populist campaign was misbegotten. Repeal of this amendment would return the selection of senators to the respective state legislatures. Instead of being vote hustlers dependent on the distribution of federal largesse to interest groups, senators would again be the servants of their states. No longer would they get away with policy postures that damaged their states’ autonomy and interests. I also suspect we would gain a better class of senators: “leading citizens,” rather than the expensive “media creations” of the recent past.

Second, elect members of the House of Representatives by proportional representation. One-third (145) of the seats should be selected on a nationwide basis. Two-thirds (290) should be distributed by population size into historical election districts (such as The Great Lakes, the Border States, the Old South, the Northeast, the Plains States, the Northwest, the Southwest, and—of course—Southern California). Political parties would develop lists of candidates, heavily governed by party loyalty, for election to these seats. Citizens would then east a single vote for a party, not an individual. Any party winning four percent or more of the vote, either on the national or on one or more of the “regional” lists, would gain that percentage of House seats from that pool. If no single party succeeded in winning a majority of the House seats (and so gain control of the House speakership and committee appointments), a coalition of parties would need to form with the political deal openly cut.

The gains from these reforms would be numerous. Authentic minorities in the United States could organize their own parties and elect their own people: the African-American Party, for example, or the Hispanic Party of America. If such ethnic voting blocs don’t really exist (as some observers suspect), these citizens would find representation in parties expressing their social class or moral aspirations. Meaningful ideological minorities in America could also win real power and an ongoing voice in the affairs of government. A Pat Buchanan Party, for example, probably could have won 15 to 20 percent of congressional seats in 1992 under such a scheme, possibly giving its party leader the “balance of power” in a reformed Congress.

Party platforms would again become real documents designed for action. Party discipline and accountability would both enjoy resurgence. Politicians would hold a vested interest in simplifying government. Congressional staffs could be sharply reduced. The number of parties would multiply, and the bureaucratic monsters known as the Republican Party and the Democratic Party would reform or die.

Regions of the nation, I predict, would recover their distinctive identities. The nation-at-large would enjoy reinvigorated state legislatures, a stronger and more responsible Congress, and a dramatic increase in voter participation. Indeed, we might just rediscover what it’s like to live in a real, functioning democracy.