Krist Novoselic: My plan to fix Congress, curb obstruction

Nirvana's former bassist is working to end political dysfunction. Here's his plan to make Congress more accountable

Topics: nirvana, Electoral reform, U.S. House of Representatives, U.S. Congress, U.S. Constitution, Citizens United, Gerrymandering, washington state, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Norm Ornstein, Republicans, Democrats, Editor's Picks, , ,

Krist Novoselic: My plan to fix Congress, curb obstructionKrist Novoselic (Credit: Reuters/Lucas Jackson)

That Congress is totally dysfunctional is evident to most Americans, with just 16 percent telling pollsters they approve of the job the body is doing. The good news is there’s a constitutional solution that would dramatically improve its efficacy, boost participation, and curb partisan obstruction: switching to a form of proportional representation by electing multiple members in each district based on how it votes.

Legend and myth was important to ancient Roman society. They practiced augury, such as reading the way birds fly, then attributing bad situations to unhappy gods. In reality, their government (a republic, no less) was run by a few elites who made bad decisions. Americans tend to be similar in buying into myths, while a real culprit of our stagnant democracy is right before our eyes. Nero may have fiddled while Rome burned, but too many of us are focused on distractions — like blaming Citizens United v. FEC for everything wrong with politics — while political insiders rig the game.

I don’t have to tell Salon readers about gerrymandering. It is as plain as day that political insiders draw lines to protect their interests. However, there’s another effect of this process. Democrats tend to get packed into urban districts or disbursed in rural areas, and this causes distortions. For example, last November in liberal Seattle, Rep. Jim McDermott won over 79 percent of the vote. Where I live in the third Congressional district of Washington state, the Democrat who lost got almost 40 percent. Nevertheless, in Seattle, no matter how great the Democrat did (whether 80 percent or 50.1), the party won a single seat; meanwhile, in my district, a not too shabby 40 percent got no representation. It’s been noted that nationally the Democratic Party won more votes than Republicans but still lost the House by 233-201. That’s not democracy.

The solution is two-fold. First, Congress needs to pass a law mandating citizen-led independent redistricting commissions in each state for U.S. House elections. This will take the power away from the insiders who skew maps and let commissions of citizens independent of the legislature draw maps. California has such a system. But this alone is not enough to provide more fairness to our elections; these commissions still tend to determine which parties are winners or losers before any ballot is cast.

As mentioned earlier, the commissions need to have the option of drawing multimember districts that are elected with an American form of proportional representation. Unlike European party-based systems with low thresholds for election, American fair-representation systems are candidate based (and already used in counties in Pennsylvania and Connecticut).

Here’s what it might look like: Voters get one vote to elect three representatives, and the top three vote-getters win election. This way, many U.S. House district would be shared between Republicans and Democrats. There would suddenly be Northeastern Republican members of Congress, which would make the Republican Party more attuned to the needs of that region. There would also be more Southern Democrats, further limiting the regional segregation we see in Congress. What’s more, voters in strongly Democratic or Republican districts will no longer feel their vote doesn’t matter. If you’re in the minority party in your district, you can still get representation in Congress.

This arrangement could even create room for independents and third parties, meaning the U.S. House would better reflect the nation than under the current skewed rules. Scholars like Norm Ornstein and Thomas Mann have pointed to the potential for less partisanship and blind obstruction; this system would address this need.

To be clear, this isn’t stargazing or mysticism, but a practical solution to the real problems of gerrymandering that’s both proven to work and constitutionally protected. For those attached to the current system, it is worth noting that the status quo arrangement of single-member districts for Congress was a political decision made in 1967 — a fairly recent rule, not one written by the nation’s founders. While the proposal above will not likely happen overnight, we’re in the middle of a fast-changing information revolution, and our political system is struggling. We need new solutions and better representation. This proposal achieves both.

Krist Novoselic, a former member of Nirvana, is the chairman of the board at FairVote, a national organization focused on fundamental structural reform of American elections.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>