Two Maryland lawmakers are poised to play a leading role in a push to bring reform to the U.S. political system.
Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D), who is expected to serve as House majority leader in the new Congress, and Rep. John P. Sarbanes (D), chairman of the Democracy Reform Task Force, told reporters on Thursday that the public believes the system is rigged against them and is clamoring for change.
Democrats scored their largest gains in the House in more than 40 years this November, the most since the Watergate scandal that brought down President Richard Nixon (R), and the lawmakers said the new class has been pressing leadership to make “democracy reform” a priority.
“Not since the 1974 crop of ‘Watergate babies’ has a class of candidates really so genuinely believed in this fundamental need… to reform Washington and end the culture of corruption,” said Tiffany Muller, president of End Citizens United Action Fund, a pro-reform group, during a conference call with Hoyer, Sarbanes and several representatives-elect.
“A lot of this energy is coming from the new members,” added Sarbanes, who has served as a bridge between the new legislators, Hoyer, and the Democrats’ leader in the House, Nancy Pelosi (Calif.).
While the legislation is still being drafted, Democrats said their reform package would:
— include an update to the Voting Rights Act to make voting easier;
— require presidential candidates to disclose their tax returns;
— encourage states to adopt public campaign financing systems;
— foster the use of non-partisan commissions to draw congressional boundaries, to thwart gerrymandering; and
— ban the use of public funds to settle sexual harassment cases involving members of Congress.
“The people want to own the system,” said Sarbanes. “They want to call the shots. They don’t want to turn that over to the special interests.”
He said discussions on reform began years ago, at Pelosi’s suggestion, to create “a big bang package of reforms that could convince the public that we really want to fix the system.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said last week that he has no plans to even take the measure up. “That’s not going to go anywhere in the Senate,” he told The Wall Street Journal.
But Democrats are so determined to signal to a scandal-weary public they understand their concerns, they have made their reform package the first order of business — House Resolution 1.
“How do you make it a priority? You put it first on the agenda,” said Hoyer, who will be in charge of the House calendar in the new Congress. “This is a statement we want make about priorities and the importance of cleaning up government.”
Added Sarbanes: “People are starved” for reform.