When the California Legislature reconvenes this week for its final month of work for the year, its members will likely do what they believe is in their constituents’ best interests. And yet, Californians have less representation than citizens of states such as Georgia and Minnesota. A single state senator in Sacramento represents roughly 988,000 people — more than the populations of six states. Each Assembly member now represents nearly half a million people, about 45 times more Californians than each lawmaker represented in the years following the historic Gold Rush. In short, California’s representative democracy is a far cry from the days when politicians could easily connect with their constituents. “That whole concept has gotten totally lost in California,” said Mark Paul, a journalist and historian who co-wrote a book on improving the Golden State’s system of governance.
The size of the Legislature — 40 members in the Senate, 80 in the Assembly — has remained unchanged since 1879. Meantime, the state they represent is now the world’s sixth-largest economy. California’s legislative process routinely generates more than 2,000 proposed laws a year and oversees a $183.2-billion state budget.
Lawmakers have more responsibility, and yet probably less contact with their constituents. Any change in the size of the Legislature would have to be blessed by voters at the ballot box. And the sales pitch wouldn’t be easy, given voters aren’t likely to love the thought of hiring more politicians.