Washblog

Dick's (bizzare?) I-24 and Jefferson's ward republics

Described as "bizzare" by Jonathan over at NPI blog tonight, I'm glad to see that Dick Spady's I-24 will was adopted by King County. While I've never really seen it explained very well, what I understand of I-24, it falls very close to my heart. What the initiative tries to do is to establish voluntary citizen discussion groups across King County. The point isn't to create a new level of bureaucracy or a new citizen ombudsman, but to give people an easy way to get together and talk about their communities and their government.

And, that the idea revolves around small discussion groups, rather than one-on-one emails, interviews, or surveys, is very attractive. I find that when you get people talking about a topic, rather than simply pontificating, ideas get better. Think of the citizen assembly that British Columbia brought together to reform their election laws or participatory budgeting in Brazil.

I can easily understand how people can perceive even local governments as being too big or too distant to properly engage in. The short public comment period during any local council meeting is not sufficient (and often times not even considered actually "public communication") for citizens to talk with their government. What I think I-24 will do will at least symbolically be King County saying "Hey, what do you think?"

Which brings me to the Ward Republics of Jefferson.

Jefferson thought that even counties in colonial Virginia were too large for citizens to really engage in their government. So he dreamed of enshrining in law a smaller level of government, the ward republic:

The counties were too large for direct participation of all the voters, thought Jefferson, but dividing the counties into "wards of such size as that every citizen can attend, when called on, and act in person ... will relieve the county administration of nearly all its business, will have it better done, and by making every citizen an acting member of the government, and in the offices nearest and most interesting to him, will attach him by his strongest feelings to the independence of his country, and its republican constitution."

The idea of the ward republic is that government closest to citizens would encourage participation and that particiapition would make government better reflect what people actually wanted. It would have been government on a human scale. We live in a time of low citizen participation, when less than a 30 percent turn out in an election isn't all that surprising. I don't think its bizzare to try to reverse that.

And, actually, the I-24 idea has been the focus of legislation in Olympia recently. SB 5346 (with six sponsors) and HB 1770 (15 sponsors) sought to establish a similar network of citizen groups:

There is a need to create a citizen councilor network of small discussion groups, open to all citizens, self-funded, and using symbolic and sustainable dialogue to communicate among political and economic leaders and the people at large.

Governments have been unable to discuss the merits of citizen participation and zeitgeist communication in a substantive manner to this date.

The passage of Initiative Measure No. 695 in 1999, Initiative Measure No. 776 in 2002, and the defeat of Referendum Measure No. 53 in 2002 are social indicators that governments, business, media, and community organizations need improved listening skills in order to substitute human responsibility for futile strife and hatreds.

< Initiative 960 will make it to the ballot | Brian Baird Says Stay but (R) Rep Jim Walsh, NY, back from Iraq says Withdraw troops >
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I'm happy this has passed and look forward to seeing how it goes.  Thanks for the link to the Jefferson Ward Republic proposal -- I'd never heard of it.

by noemie maxwell on Sun Sep 09, 2007 at 05:43:15 PM PST

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Does anyone agree with me that this is what we should have done in Afghanistan and Iraq? It's basically what I've been calling for over the last 6 years.

by chadlupkes on Thu Sep 13, 2007 at 06:51:49 AM PST

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