I’ve never been to Lowell Bog. But, according to the map, I share a state House district with it and any voters it might contain. (Legislative candidate: “Thanks for your time, Mr. Swamp Thing. I hope you’ll decide I’m the best person to represent you, because of my support for wetlands protection.”)
The district I live in stretches from Franklin County’s Coplin Plantation, near the south branch of the Dead River (“I appreciate your talking to me, Ms. Zombie, and I hope you’ll back my efforts to reduce the estate tax”), across sparsely populated terrain in central Somerset County, to the Piscataquis County town of Wellington (“You’re right, Duke, this country has got to maintain a strong national defense in case we’re threatened with an invasion by the emperor of France”). As the crow flies, it’s over 50 miles from one end to the other. As the roads — many of them unpaved — meander, it’s probably more than twice that.
I’ve never met my state representative. I doubt most people in my town could tell you his name. (“It’s not still that Swamp Thing guy, is it?”)
The state Senate district which covers this area is even more immense. In fact, it’s bigger than Rhode Island. Only with more trees and somewhat less corruption.
My senator (whomever it is) represents a territory with an international flavor. It starts on the Canadian border — enveloping Madrid, Belgrade, and Vienna (“Of course I take campaign contributions in Euros”), as well as 32 other towns and unorganized territories in three counties — and ends within mortar range of the state capital.
When I hear well-meaning folks — by which I mean idiots — suggest we reduce the size of the Maine Legislature, I have visions of being swept up in an even more enormous political subdivision that’s represented by somebody in Bangor. Or Bangkok.
Cutting the number of legislators is a perennial favorite theme of clunkheads, who have no idea how government works. They’re convinced such a move would save money and reduce the number of stupid laws that get passed. After all, that idea has worked well in other places. Such as North Korea, where the ruling body is just one guy — who’s bankrupted the country and issued an edict requiring all men to wear the same strange haircut he sports.
Nevertheless, the view that eliminating a few senators and representatives would improve the situation persists. Just this past June, a constitutional amendment to dump 19 members from the House and two from the Senate was defeated by lopsided votes in (sound the irony alarm) the House and Senate. If it had passed, every state representative would have added an extra 1250 constituents and each state senator would have picked up more than 2000. The chances of any given voter getting lost in the crowd would have grown just a little bit greater.
There’s another reason why smaller isn’t better. The more sizable a legislative district, the less its residents have in common. That’s already a problem across much of the northern two-thirds of the state, where tiny agricultural hamlets are lumped in with mill towns, and villages that depend on outdoor recreation for their livelihood are bound up with industrial centers that can’t afford to spare a sparrow or a spruce.