Monday, December 21, 2009

Statements About States

Alexander Heard (ed.) State Legislatures in American Politics. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1966.

Numerous scandals involving state legislators from the 1940s through the 1960s reduced the public’s belief that legislators represented their public interests. Reform movements sought to make state legislators more efficient representatives and more honest. This was part of a global effort that produced public support for improving all democracies.

In 1962, South Carolina was the state with the lowest per capita in state general expenditures at $201.70. California, Nevada, Wyoming, and Alaska had double that in per capita state spending.

States varied in how much they paid for local governments. In 1962, New York and Wisconsin provided just under half of their state funds for local government operations. This compares to New Hampshire and South Dakota, which provided under 10% of their state funds to local governments.

In the early 1960s. states allowed public utility rates of returns on investments from 6%to 10%.

Several states were known for having flamboyant populist leaders. Others had progressive reform minded leaders. Both political parties had liberal and conservative factions.

Governors had no power to veto legislation in North Carolina, weak veto powers in North Carolina, West Virginia, Tennessee, and Rhode Island.
State legislatures were found not to be as influential as other state government institutions, yet their involvement was considered as essential.
The Federal government increased matching Federal funds with state funds for education, roads, health, public welfare, and unemployment insurance. In doing so, the Federal government increased its role in how these programs operated. This diminished state government authority, which in turn decreased the role of state legislatures in these programs.

Many state legislators, as confirmed in a Frank J. Sorauf study of Pennsylvania legislators, viewed their role as “delegates” representing their constituents. Urban and low income areas tended to elect Democrats as state legislators. Rural and upper income suburban districts tended to elect Republicans as state legislators. Legislators elected by smaller margins tended to be more attentive to their constituents’ views and intents.

Legislators oversee the administration of state government. They seek to have agencies respond to their policy goals.

The use of oversight actions varied greatly among states. Some actions seemed to be more concerned over politics than achieving policy goals. In cases of extreme oversight, it is noted that legislatures had the power of impeachment in every state except Oregon.

State legislators often faced periods of strong public disapproval. Public outrage at their legislators during the 1850s led to several Constitutional changes that restricted legislative authorities. When legislatures are unpopular, they tend to have their powers weakened.

State legislatures in decades prior to and through the 1960s were criticized for often giving over-represented powers to certain groups, such as for over-representing rural populations.

Conflicts of interest have long been a problem for legislators. Throughout legislative history, there has always been legislators whose professions or ownerships have been affected their legislative actions.

It should be noted that criticism of legislatures are easy to asset. Legislative actions can often be described as “a power grab” if they agree with the Governor and as obstructionist is they disagree with the Governor.

Governors asset authority over creating budgets, veto powers, and their ability to call special sessions.

In 1960, before “one person, one vote”, Vermont House districts ranged from a low of 38 people in one district to 35,000 living in the most populous district. In the California State Senate, the populations by districts ranged from 14,000 to 6 million. In 14 states, under 20% of the voters elected a majority of legislators.

In the 1960s, five states, all Southern, were one party Democratic legislative states with few Republican members, six states, all Southern, had strong Democratic majority legislatures with sizable Republican minorities. Five states had Democratic majorities and these states had Republican majorities where the other party elected Governors. 27 states were considered competitive for control of either party.

Nebraska is the only state with a unicamarel legislature. This eliminates, as seen in other states, chambers accusing the other for inaction on legislation. More diverse states may be less prone to reduce their legislative diversity by switching to unicamarelism.

In Pennsylvania, most legislative committee matters were handled by the majority party committee chair and the chair’s staff.

Voters have a faint idea of political party interests, knows as an “inarticulate ideology” and voters often support candidates of parties according to these interests. Legislators sometimes face dilemmas between supporting the desires of their constituents when they may challenge party unity.

About a third of legislators turned over their seats to others in the early 1960s. A study of ten states in 1925-1935 found 40% turnovers in the lower chambers and 20% turnover in the upper chambers. A 1952 study found legislatures were composed of 42% by first termers.

A 1949 study found legislators were composed of 23% business people, 22% attorneys, 4% physicians, and 4% teachers.

It was often that 50% to 60% of legislative general elections were uncontested in the 1950s.

The 1958 Connecticut legislative elections resulted in many upset elections. Many winners had problems making legislative meetings as they had not expected to win and had not planned how to attend them. The Democrats had a two vote margin but had problems maintaining their majority during sessions.

The median number of bills proposed in state legislatures in 1963 was approximately 2,000. The 1963 Connecticut legislature had 4,000 bills introduced and passed 1,400 of them.

California and North Carolina provided legislators with Capitol offices and about $1,250 per month for constituent offices. Most other states did not provide offices for legislators.

Some legislators received public relations fees, legal counsel fees, business shares, etc. for their legislative votes, which were called “legal payoffs”.
Large size legislatures are unable to engage in deliberative discussions among most members. They can only function if only all say little. Otherwise there can’t e time to accomplish much.

Most House Speakers control debate by the authority of the office, but also by controlling when microphones are turned on or off.
In 1964, ten states had regular legislative session in both odd and even numbers years, three of which had length limits on how long they could meet during the year. Nine other states had regular session in the odds years and budget sessions in the even years.

The Wisconsin Legislative Reference Library was created in 1901 to help legislators research issues. This served as a model for other states, eventually leading to reference bureaus in most states that draft bills to be proposed by legislators.
David Truman has shown that legislators require both technical and political information and skill in serving as legislators.


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