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A Nutty Solution to The Nutty Goings On In Congress

April 5, 2015

By Joe Rothstein

The media wasn’t much interested the other day when both houses of Congress voted to get rid of all of the national forests, wildlife refuges, wilderness areas, historic sites, national monuments and other land owned and managed by the federal government.

Since there hasn’t been a lot of reporting about it you certainly can be excused from not knowing that the Republican congressional majority wants to get rid of your land. But now that you do know, how do you feel about that? If you’re among the 80 to 90 percent of the American public who, according to surveys, tell us they cherish those lands as a public trust then you’re no doubt either aghast that Congress would consider such a thing or suspicious that the action was some sort of an April Fool’s Day joke. This can’t be serious, can it?

Well, yes. It can and it is. Congressional Republicans have been trying to gut public land protection for years. Disposing of those lands is the natural next step now that they control both houses of Congress.

The Senate vote wasn’t just an accidental action prompted by a junior right wing radical when few were paying attention. It was sponsored by the new chairman of the powerful Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski. Think about that next time you see those beautiful ads featuring Alaska’s magnificent public lands as a lure to visit Alaska. No one signs up for those cruises to see the oil wells.

Murkowski’s counterpart, the chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, the committee charged with protection of our air, water and land resources, is Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma, best known for considering climate change a hoax. That “hoax” comment was not just an offhand remark blown out of proportion through repetition. Inhofe has published a book titled “The The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future.” The book's for sale on Amazon. Look it up.

At this point I can’t resist pulling a selection from writer David Corn’s recent article in Mother Jones magazine. Corn interviewed Inhofe at a UN-sponsored global gathering on climate change. Here’s a portion of that interview:

“Look around us, I said, spreading my arms wide. There are thousands of intelligent and well-meaning people in this gigantic conference center: scientists, heads of state, government officials, policy experts. They believe that climate change is a serious and pressing threat and that something must be done soon. Do you believe that they have all been fooled?

“Yes, he said, grinning.

“That these people who have traveled from all points of the globe to be here are victims of a well-orchestrated hoax?

“Yes, he said, still smiling.

“That's some hoax, I countered. But who has engineered such a scam?

“Hollywood liberals and extreme environmentalists, Inhofe replied.

“Really? I asked. Why would they conspire to scare all these smart people into believing a catastrophe was under way, when all was well?

“Inhofe didn't skip a beat: To advance their radical environmental agenda.

“I pressed on: Who in Hollywood is doing this?

“The whole liberal crowd, Inhofe said.

“But who?

“Barbra Streisand, he responded.”

I believe I speak for the vast majority of Americans when I say that belief that the whole climate change thing is a Barbara Streisand plot and the idea that we should auction off all federal lands to the highest bidders are both nutty ideas. And if I had more time and space I could list dozens more ridiculous and alarming things getting serious congressional attention.

Which prompts me to dust off a solution I’ve been advocating through the years that drives my insider political friends crazy. Well, maybe not a solution, since it will never happen. But I think it underscores the absurdity of our current legislative environment.

What if we change the way we select those who go to the House of Representatives. By its very name, that house is supposed to represent the views of the majority of the people. My fix would be to each year randomly select from the voting registration lists 12 people from each congressional district. They would need to be at least 18 years old, not in prison, and not mentally incapacitated. Otherwise, anyone and everyone is eligible. Once selected, they come to Washington and elect a chair from among their number. That person becomes the voting representative. How that person votes depends on a consensus of the group.

Think about it. Such a group likely would be composed of white collar, blue collar, small business, big business, rich, poor, jacks of all trades. But they would have this in common. After a year in Washington they would return to their communities and live with the results of their actions. They also would need to face and explain to their friends, neighbors and relatives why they did what they did.

Would such a group vote to auction off public lands? Would such a group manage environmental policy as if Barbara Streisand was behind a global hoax? Would they be anxious to send their own kids off to fight wars? Would they vote against the minimum wage? Would they deny money to fix their own roads, bridges and water and sewer systems? In other words, would they be more representative than what we have now?

Nonsense, I’m told. How can you trust random people who may not even care about politics or government to be our legislators? Well, I answer, my system is not that different than the way we select juries that in many cases decide whether a defendant lives or dies or spends their adult life in jail. Jury “peers” generally know little about the criminal or penal codes. But the system survives because they have a good sense of what’s right and what’s wrong.

Our current system is filled with legislators motivated by little more than how to get elected and to stay elected, and those who run the gauntlet of the campaign because they are ideologues or egomaniacs, or who have little problem taking millions of campaign dollars from those with economic interests adverse to the public interest.

Is that the system we want to keep and cherish? I like my random selection idea better. If you don’t, just let me know when you have a better one.

(Joe Rothstein can be contacted at

Joe Rothstein is a political strategist and media producer who worked in more than 200 campaigns for political office and political causes. He also has served as editor of the Anchorage Daily News and as an adjunct professor at George Washington University's Graduate School of Political Management. He has a master's degree in journalism from UCLA. Mr. Rothstein is the author of award-winning political thrillers, The Latina President and the Conspiracy to Destroy Her, The Salvation Project, and The Moment of Menace. For more information, please visit his website at