Nelson Polsby died yesterday. I sat next to him at lunch last month, just after the opening of the new congress.
"Why isn't Nancy Pelosi not now the head of the U.S. government?" I asked. "The House was set up with the powers the British House of Commons held in 1787. Since then because the Commons grabbed the purse--the financing--power has leaked from the Crown and the Lords into the Commons so that now it has it all. The U.S. House of Representatives has the same purse power--all tax bills must originate there. So why hasn't power flowed to the House?"
"Ah," he said. "I see you are more of a formalist than I thought. It's not formal power to initiate: it's democratic legitimacy. Power has flowed to the British House of Commons because it is the only elected and representative branch. In the U.S., power remains divided because the President and the Senate are elected."
"I grant you the President," I said. "A newly-elected President in full panoply of plebiscitory power is an awesome force. But the Senate? It's so malapportioned."
And I went on: "Within the Senate why hasn't power flowed to the most populous states? Why aren't the Senators from California automatically committee chairs? And why do we put up with this? Why don't we select 300,000 of us Californians by lot, and have them all move to the Rockies in the summer of 2008 to sway the balance and elect us three extra Senators?"
"That I can answer," he said. "That's been tried. Bleeding Wyoming. Pottawatamie under the Tetons..."
Rest in Peace, Nelson.