Sunday, June 12, 2011

Back When Republicans Were Northerners

Mary Spencer Ringold. The Role of the State Legislatures in the Confederacy. Athens, Ga.: University of Georgia Press, 1966.

The Confederate Constitution, while not specifying state’s rights, deliberately left “general welfare” out as a means for Confederate Congressional taxation. This meant general welfare issues were left to each state. General welfare issues, in addition to maintaining economic and political operations during war time, were the primary concerns of Confederate Governors and state legislators.

In six weeks in 1861, successions conventions were held in South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas for approving succeeding from the United States. A Confederate government was formed that was later joined by Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina, and Tennessee.

Many of the laws in Confederate states were initially existing laws changed to omit references to the United States. Laws on treason were changed. Three days after succession, Louisiana transferred all Federal offices and Postal employees to Louisiana jurisdictions. Louisiana took over Federal revenue collection duties. Federal courts became state courts. Other states followed in similar fashion, including some taking control of Indian reservations.

South Carolina adopted the powers to make foreign treaties and appoint foreign agents.

Louisiana established state-owned stores to sell necessities to civilians. North Carolina had state owned ships to go past Union blockades to bring back supplies for civilian and military use.

Six Confederate state legislatures moved from biennial to annual meetings. North Carolina, Mississippi, Texas, and South Carolina all had several extra sessions.

Defeating was widely felt throughout the Confederacy in 1863. Growing public expression was expressed that state legislatures could not find solutions to the many problems created by the war. Economic, political, and social disintegration grew. A man of “Unionist stripe” was able to win election to the Alabama legislature. Some newspapers condemned secessionist leaders for grabbling powerful position and then serving incompetently. The bigotry of Conference legislators was denounced. The images of legislators fleeing as Union armies were emerging added to the atmosphere of defeatism.

Governor John Milton of Florida in 1862 wanted a militia to protect Florida instead of leaving the defense of Florida to Confederate troops. The legislature refused to agree to this until 1864.

The North Carolina legislature authorized financing 10,000 volunteers for the war efforts and later increased this to 11,000. Tennessee optimistically established 55,000 volunteers. Texas authorized one regiment for one year. Texas also created a Ranger Corps under Confederate command that could not leave Texas. South Carolina approved some Ranger and two cavalry companies but did not establish an army until 1863. Louisiana authorized $50 and 80 acres after the war to anyone becoming a private or non-commissioned officer,

Virginia created a militia and a reserve militia. Their system was considered the most practical as other states created various militia and brigades. South Carolina allowed its militia to go into other states as long as it continued being directed by the South Carolina Governor. The Union invasion of Mississippi caused the legislature to lower the militia age to 16 and increase the upper age limit to 55. Some newspapers criticism was the militia added little militarily and that the men would have been more effective at home. The militia laws were not popular everywhere. The exemption of public officials form militia services upset many.

The Confederacy wanted volunteers for the war’s duration while Governors were creating units to serve for one year. The Confederacy at first sent back volunteers who were not agree to serve for more than a year. The Confederacy eventually accepted troops for a year if they arrived completed armed and equipped. The Union invasion of Virginia in 1862 coincided when many one year conscriptions were ending.

The Confederate Congress suspended the writ of habeas corpus. The Florida legislature in 1864 upheld the writ and declared their authority supreme. The North Carolina legislature in 1863 approved the authority of Sheriffs to take into custody anyone state law considered to be wrongly held by Confederate law. In 1865, North Carolina law allowed the Confederacy to only suspend habeas corpus for alleged accused criminals. This made it difficult for the Confederacy to organized and maintain a military force.

The Confederate army impressed to obtain supplies. North Carolina and Virginia legislatures voted to make impressions more equitable so people would not lose all they have. Seven states enacted penalties for overly impressing.

The Confederate army began with $389,267 that Louisiana officials found in a min and customs house plus a $500,000 loan from Alabama.

The Confederate Treasury urged states to guarantee the Confederate debt. Alabama, Florida, South Carolina, and Mississippi guarantee a proportion of the national debt, according to some proportion of their state size. Georgia declined to do this, arguing for restraining the financing powers of the Confederate government.

Several states created banking laws. There were no banks in Arkansas and Texas. Historians observe the banks engaged in war time speculation. Banks did well but farmers did not. The Union blockade cut purchases of farm goods, the war decreased the number of farm workers, and railroads carrying agricultural goods were disrupted by war needs. A large supply of unsold cotton developed. Mississippi and Alabama created taxes on cotton seed to lower cotton production. Arkansas limited cotton to two acres per hand and create large fines for exceeding this. Florida enacted tougher production restrictions with exceptions for own use and low priced sales. The Georgia legislature voted down stricter limits and enacted a three acre per hand limit on cotton.

North Carolina sought to increased food production and lower alcohol production by taxing whiskey at 30 cents per gallon up to a date in 1862 and then banning production after that date. Whiskey brought into North Carolina was taxes $1 per gallon. Florida limited whiskey production except what that which the government contracted. Florida later prohibited rum production. Alabama’s Governor unilaterally halted all distilleries. The legislature then concurred and gave the Governor control of distilleries with distillery profits allocated to indigent soldier families. South Carolina similarly created state control of whiskey. Georgia and Mississippi created licensing. Louisiana prohibited spirits.

Louisiana and Alabama passed laws to control areas that produced salt. North Carolina required adequate salt production. Georgian and South Carolina subsidized salt production. Mississippi allocated $500,000 for salt works.

Louisiana and Georgia created commodities production entities owned by the state. Louisiana sold goods in stores owned by the state.

Tennessee loaned $17 million for railways. North Carolina allocated funds to build 900 miles of track. South Carolina issued grants and bonds to 12 railroad companies. Alabama brought stock in companies to expand rail in Alabama. Georgia seized control of a militarily strategic rail owned mostly by shareholders in Northern states.

Louisiana issued bonds for $6,000 per mile of rail. Arkansas issued loans and bought rail stock. Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida, Texas, and Alabama issued land grants and credit for railroads. These were costly investments as Union troops destroyed much of the rail system.

Florida let troops ride rails for free for a year. This law was then repealed.

There were fears that a war involving slavery would lead to slave rebellions. Florida created weekly patrols of plantations. Virginia created county police that could arrest escaping slaves or anyone calling for a slave rebellion. Tennessee created a law that five people who were found credible could accuse a person of insurrection. Incendiary actions brought the death penalty in North Carolina.

Mississippi created a $500 fine and 60 day imprisonment for giving freedom to a slave. Texas prohibited slaves from owning farm animals. North Carolina prohibited a free Black person from having slaves.

A bill creating legal marriage among slaves passed a Mississippi Senate committee but went no further.

The laws in Florida required slaves and even freed slaves to be tried by a jury of 12 slaveholders with a decision made by majority vote of jurors.

The death penalty in Arkansas could be given for sodomy, perjury, bigamy, incent, for embezzling public money, burglary, robbery, Negro stealing and other higher crimes such as murder.

All Confederate legislators passed stay laws to create debtor relief, to the chagrin or merchants and banks.

Georgia created public schools funded by a dedicated tax. Counties could use some revenues from the tax for soldier relief or for buying necessary goods.

Texas had a $2 million school fund where fraud and railroad borrowing against this fund led to a repayment values of 6% to 10% of the value borrowed.

Louisiana shifted free school funds to the general fund, eliminated the State Superintendent of Education in 1865, and allocated $100,000 for school books that were sold to students who could buy them and were free to students who could not buy them.

North Carolina’s Governor was a strong supporter of public schools. Schools continued through the war and expanded in 1864.

Poor morale of Confederate troops spurred several states to exempt them from property and poll taxes and to provide relief from sales for collecting their debts. North Carolina, Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi, and Florida allowed troops to vote by absentee ballot.

North Carolina allocated$300,000 for a hospital and a surgeon in Virginia to treat North Carolina soldiers. Alabama created a hospital in Virginia for wounded Alabama soldiers.

Arkansas created a hospital and homes within Arkansas for its soldiers. Florida created wayside homes. Virginia allowed wounded discharged soldiers to attend university for free.

In 1861, Florida placed price controls of 33% profit on key food substances. This was repealed by a state convention in 1862. Mississippi penalized speculation with imprisonment of one year of less and/or a $1,000 fine. Texas law required beef sales to be reported but did not regulate them.

Relief laws for assisting poor families of men in military service were enacted throughout the Confederacy. Many let counties tax and administer this relief. Relief was later expanded for needy families regardless of having a family member at war. Mississippi and Virginia allowed for seizing supplies for relief purposes.

Every Confederate state government except South Carolina had major revenue problems. Most state gambled the war would not last long and assumed large debt. Consumer confidence made it difficult for states to sell bonds. Tennessee’s state government collapsed. South Carolina raised taxes in 1861 which increased its revenues by $200,000 to a total of $800,000. Taxes were raised even more in 1864.

Desertion from the Confederate military became rampant. North Carolina, Alabama, and Mississippi had large parts of their states controlled by deserters. In addition, the declining Confederate economy and weakened Confederate patrols created growing illegal trade with Union merchants. This trade became so common, especially since it was often done out of necessity, that both sides did little to stop it.

State legislators in North Carolina and Georgia debated in 1864, but did not pass, offers of peace and reconciliation with the Union.

Republicans Take Control in Southern States, and Other News

Charles E. Menifield and Stephen D. Shaffer (ed.) Politics in the New South: Representation of African Americans in Southern State Legislatures. Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press, 2005.

“Descriptive representation” is the belief that legislators should resemble the demographics of the area represented. It argues legislators should represent the values and views and be similar to their constituencies. This limits creativity and discourages legislators from developing unique views that deviate from the community norms. It does guarantee that the views of that district are presented.

Voters tend to select candidates who are most like themselves. Members of racial groups are most apt to vote for representatives who are members of their own racial group.

Swain, Lublinz, Grofman, Bullock, and Hill have found in various studies that creating districts that will virtually guarantee racial minority representation has harmed general political goals of racial minorities. The concentrating of racial minority votes into districts composed primarily of racial minority residents makes it more difficult for moderates from the majority racial white community who favor racial minority rights from being elected when their districts then consist of greater proportions of whites.

Increases in the numbers of African Americans in state legislatures can be traced to the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Mississippi was the state where this increase happened at the slowest rate. Mississippi was also the state that was the slowest in addressing provisions of the Voting Right Act.

Most African Americans elected to Southern state legislatures before 1988 were male.

A survey of African American legislators in the early 1990s found most African legislators in the early 190s felt discriminated against by fellow legislators. They believed they were given less important committee assignments. Studies have confirmed the relative lack of important committee assignments.

Arkansas, compared to other Southern States, were historically less obstructionist against African Americans. African Americans had little difficulty voting in at least parts of Arkansas (not counting the Delta plantations) in the 1940s. Racial integration peacefully occurred in some schools in Arkansas before it became a contentious issue in the 1950s.

The percent of African Americans as a percent of the Arkansas legislative bodies was 3% in both House and Senate through the 1970s increasing to 5% in 1989. Arkansas redistricting was found to be in violated of the Voting Rights Act. Legislative seats most likely to be filled by African Americans were created, with 13 House and 3 Senate of such districts established. The percent of African Americans in the House increased to 10% in the Senate and in the Senate to 9%. In 1998, two additional seats were won by African Americans. A study found African American legislators in Arkansas have often voted together as a block yet they have had little influence on policies.

Florida has experienced much migration from the rest of the U.S. and from Cuba. African American voters found much discrimination before the 1960s. The 1960s brought the Voting Rights Act and the beginnings of large migration to Florida. African Americans increased as a proportion of legislators, yet they were Democrats in a state that was becoming more controlled by Republican politicians. In 1997, the Black Caucus began aligning with Republican legislative leaders on issues such as institution school vouchers, allowing prayer in school, prohibiting same sex marriages, and voting for a Republican education budget over the Democratic proposal. Republicans did not always reach out to African Americans, as noted when Republican Jeb Bush, when running for Governor in 1994, stated he would do “probably nothing” for the African American community. In 1998, Jeb Bush made a point to reach out to the African American community. He was elected Governor that year.

Some African Americans had problems voting in Florida in 2000. Their voting areas have the worst voting arrangements. Some were told they couldn’t vote because they held the same name as a felon even though they weren’t felons who are not allowed to vote in Florida. Police officers reportedly kept some from voting.

In only one session, 1994-96, has one Florida African American House member chaired an important legislative committee. No important Florida Senate committee has been chaired by an African American (Note: book printed in 2005).

The percent of African American legislators in Florida reached its highest percentage in the late 1990s at 12.5% in both chambers. This happened as a result of implementing more districts that would likely elect an African American. Florida was 14.6% African American in 2000. African American representation is almost proportional to the percent of population yet the legislators have not obtained significant influence.

In 1965, the Southern states with the highest percent of African Americans registered were Louisiana, Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina. Mississippi has the lowest percent at 6.7%

13% of Georgia legislators were African American in 1980-82. In 2000, the percent was 18%. In 1991-94, this percent was 22%. Georgia’s population was 28.7% African American in 2000.

Georgia Democratic African American legislators voted differently than did white Georgia Democratic legislators 50% of the time in the House and 30% of the tie in the Senate.

In 2000, 29% of Mississippi House members and 19% of its Senate members were African American. In 2000, 33% of Mississippi House committees were chaired by African Americans. African American legislators in Mississippi have worked with white Democrats to pass affirmative action legislation, motor voter legislation, and other issues important to African Americans. The Black Caucus has formed coalitions with white Democrats to support public education, especially in pooer communities.

During Reconstruction, there were as many as 2 African American Senate and 12 African American House members in the 1871 Texas legislature. Texas took steps to prevent African Americans from voting in 1883 and increased these efforts with a poll tax in 1902. Texas was not initially included in the enforcement provisions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

In 1999, 9.3% of the Texas House and 6.4% of the Texas Senate were African American. The percent of representation has not deviated much from 1981 on. (Note: The book was printed in 2005).

A study of Alabama politics has found Alabama politicians generally less responsive to African American political influence than in most other states.

In 2000, 32.2% of Louisiana’s population was African American. Ernest “Dutch” Morial in 1968 was the first African American to serve in the Louisiana House since Reconstruction. In 2000, 21.0% of House members and 21.5% of Senate members were African Americans. 2 of 17 Senate committee and 3 of 16 House committees were chaired by African Americans.

22% of North Carolina’s population was African American in 2000. 14.2% of House members and 14.1% of Senate members were African Americans in 2000. African Americans served as Speaker (Daniel Blue) and House Majority Leader (Milton Fitch) until their Democratic party lost control of the House. In 2000, African Americans held influential committee chairmanships of the Senate Ways and Means Committee and the House Appropriations Committee.

In South Carolina, African Americans held no legislative committee chairmanships or vice chairmanships in the Senate and one House chair and one House vice chair position in 2000.

In Tennessee, African Americans held 9% of the House and 9% of the Senate seat in 1980. They held 13% of House seat and 12% Senate seats in 2000. African Americans saw 55.8% of their bills passed in 1987 and 57.2% passed in 1988. These percentages compare with the 54.1% in 1987 and 48.9% in 1988 passed b white legislators. A study found African Americans tend to work on significant legislation that helped their constituencies on education, health care, economic issues, etc.

In Virginia, 4.0% of House members and 3.6% of Senate members in 1980 were African Americans. In 2000, 10.0% of House members and 10.7% of Senate members were African Americans. An African American, Douglas Wilder, presided over the Senate as Lt. Governor. Yet, there were no African American chairs nor many bills sponsored by African Americans passed while Wilder presided. (Wilder later became Governor). There were no African American Senate chairs and three were House chairs in 2000.

Legislative Black Caucus positions had chamber success rates of 96% in Texas, 79% in Georgia, 67% in Mississippi, 59% in Florida, and 44% in Arkansas.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Republicans Used to Like a Democrat Who Liked Them

Rodney E. Stanley and P. Edward French. Tennessee's John S. Wilder: The Longest Tenured State Legislator. Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, Inc., 2007.

John Wilder served for 36 years presiding over the Tennessee Senate as Speaker and the Senate, an office that also includes the title of Lieutenant Governor. Wilder is a Democrat but some claim he "thinks like a Republican." Wilder states "a good Democrat is a conservationist and a conservative businessman." He has won respect from people in both parties, as well as animosity from people in both parties who dislike a person who can often see both political sides.

In Tennessee, the Senate Speaker selects the Senate committee chair and vice chairs of nine committees. The Lt. Governor also decides which bills are referred to which committee. Wilder served 18 two year terms as Senate Speaker, making him the person who has presided over a legislature longer than anyone else in American history.

Wiilder is considered a "nominal Democrat" or "extremely conservative" Democrat who has appointed Republican Senators to chair committees. Wilder states he votes his conscious. One reason Wilder may have been able to remain a Lt. Governor is he was never viewed as using his office for advancement. He never ran for Governor, although he briefly considered running once, something his wife urged him not to do. He survived an attempt to oust him was Republicans Winfield Dunn and Lamar Alexander were Governor. He survived a Democratic Party split. He finally was ousted as Speaker in 2007.

Wilder describes himself as a Jeffersonian Democrat who supports the free market and dislikes government subsidies to farmers. He argues without subsidies that more food to food more people would be produced at lower costs. Wilder, like Jefferson, dislikes political parties. He believes partisanship harms progress.

Wilder is very religious. He believes people should talk to Jesus daily. From that, people will better love and respect others.

Wilder grew up in a farming family. U.S. Senator Jim Sasser convinced Wilder to become involved with the National Soil District which was created to conserve water and soil and prevent another dust bowl. He then became President of the Tennessee Agriculture Council in 1959.

Wilder ran for the Senate in 1959. He was named Vice Chairman of the Senate's Agriculture Committee and Secretary of the Conservation Committee based on his past experiences. He was defeated for reelection by the County Democratic Executive Committee Chairman, Jimmy Walker, who was also Mayor of Bethel Springs. Walker lost reelection to William Cobb in 1964. In 1966, Wilder defeated Cobb for reelection.

The 1966 Wilder-Cobb election was marred by the theft of some ballot boxes before the ballots were counted. They were found in bushes and the ballots then counted. The ballots increased Wilder's previous thin lead.

In 1971, the Senate elected Wilder as Lt. Governor and Speaker of the Senate. The previous Lt. Governor, Frank Gorrell, helped make the legislature more independent from the Governor. Gorrell had challenged the right of the Governor to appoint the Senate Speaker. He also helped change the Tennessee legislature to having annual rather than biannual sessions.

The Tennessee Constitution states the Senate Speaker serves as Governor in the Governor's absence. The Lt, Governor is a symbolic title, except for also serving as Vice Chairman of the Building Commission and as an ex officio member of the Council of Pensions and Retirement. The Senate Speaker serves on the Fiscal Review Committee.

The General Assembly in Tennessee appoints the Secretary of State, Comptroller of the Treasury, and the State Treasurer. This is a power not found in most other states giving Tennessee legislators and their leaders greater influence.

Tennessee created the Joint Legislative Service Committee in 1977 which is co-chaired by the Senate and House Speakers. This committee hires people to direct legislative administration, legal services, budget analysis, and information services.

Wilder became known for defending his constituents’ values. A slogan he used in his campaigns was “I will be as close as your telephone."

The Tennessee Senate served two year terms until 1966. Afterwards, they served staggered four year terms with half the Senate elected every two years. The Senate elects it’s Speaker every two years.

Wilder was a strong supporter of Speaker Gorrell. Wilder was elected to succeed Gorrell on the basis he would continue Gorrell's work. Wilder detested partisan politics which allowed him to work well with almost all Senators from both parties. He makes appointments form both parties, a rarity in American legislative politics.

In Tennessee, the Lt. Governor succeeds as full Governor if the Governor resigns or dies. This has happened four times in Tennessee history. If the Lt. Governor becomes Governor during the first 18 months of a Governor's term, a special election for the rest of the term would be held at the following general election for the rest of the term. If the Lt, Governor becomes Governor after 18 months into the term, the Lt. Governor will serve as Governor for the remainder of the term.

Wilder began serving as Senate Speaker in 1973 during tumultuous debate over redistricting as the courts had struck down a plan the legislature had previously developed. Wilder felt the courts had overreached in their intervention in redistricting. Wilder felt certain parts of the state were overrepresented. He defended representation for his western part of the state,

Wilder sponsored legislation that was enacted that had judges appointed by the Governor with an evaluation committee. The evaluation committee would have four appointees by the Senate Speaker, four by the House Speaker, and seven by the Governor. Wilder argued this gave the legislative branch more power.

Sen. Riley Darnell, a Democrat, challenged Wilder for Senate Speaker in 1987. 15 Democrats supported Darnell but they could not get two other Democrats to join them. Senate Republicans voted for Wilder, allowing him to win by 18 ti 15. Wilder removed six Democrats who oppose dhim from their committee chairmanships. That led another attempt to remove Wilson in 1987. Wilder won this time by 20 to 13. By 1991, Wilder and dissident Democrats reached an agreement.

The state Republican Party Chairman made an effort to defeat Wilder for reelection to his Senate seat in 2000. The state Republicans allocated $80,000 in this unsuccessful effort. In 2004, Wilder's campaign cost $870,364 while his Republican opponent Ron Stallings spent $203,948, making this one of the most expensive legislative campaigns in history.

The FBI indicted several Tennessee legislators on bribery charges. Wilder felt some were entrapped.

Wilder fought for prison privatization. The Corrections Corporation of America now operates several privatized prisons in Tennessee.

Republican Senators who supported Wilder were threatened with primary opposition if they continued voting for Wilder for Speaker. Wilder was defeated by Ron Ramsey, a Republican, for Senate Speaker in 2007 by 18 to 15. Two former Wilder supporters switched sides. Ramsey became the first Republican Lt. Governor since Dorsey Thomas in 1871.

Back When Republicans Were Hard to Find in Boston

William M. Bulger. James Michael Curley: A Short Biography and Personal Reminiscences. Carlisle, Ma.: Commonwealth Editions, 2009.

In 1955, the author cast his first vote for his political hero for Mayor of Boston, James Curley, who then was age 81. Curley had been elected Mayor four times yet his candidacy then proved to be a long shot. Bulger admired Curley's courage and his history. Bulger respected that history and recalls going to watch Curley's concession speech in the 1951 race for Mayor when Curley finished second in the Democratic Primary.

In 1952, as a college student, Bulger wrote a college paper on Curley's second conviction. Bulger believes Curley did not engage in the mail fraud of which he was convicted. Curley had attached his name to help James Fuller obtain military contracts. Curley was not aware of Fuller's illegal business activities and writing checks that bounced. Curley even received one of Fuller's checks that bounced. Bulger argues that Federal prosecutions were overzealous and committed their own illegal acts in order to convict a famous person, Curley, for crimes committed by a lesson known person, Fuller.

Curley served in the Common Council and was a state legislator when he was convicted for taking a civil service test for another. He went to jail in 1904. He kept his political career going with the argument "he did it for a friend." He argued he deliberately violated a bad law by helping a poor person get a job that rich people could easily get. The feeling was if Curley would go to jail to help someone, he would fight for his constituents. Curley trounced the "good government" candidate. Curley read a lot in prison. He found and remembered many quotes he would use in speeches.

Curley helped people and by helping others he built his own political organization. Curley claimed in his first decade in politics he annually found jobs for 500, halted 7 evictions or repossession, and prevented 25, mostly juveniles, from obtaining criminal records. Curley would help people facing vagrancy charges find jobs. He refused to help drunks, whom he found were not reliable employees, and wife abusers, who disgusted him.

Curley remained accessible to the public. Even as Governor, people could wait and meet him. Curley claimed as Mayor he met 250 people daily, although this is likely an exaggerated claim.

Curley made personal attacks. He would not attack a corporation for a fare hike, but would attack the leader of the corporation and claim that leader personally causing the rate hike. When he was criticized by another politician once, he told his mostly Irish American audience that his attacked who had served in the British Army, was a "British Hessian."

Curley would play audiences for humorous put downs. When a Congressional opponent stated his wife wanted to be the wife of a Congressman, Curley responded "then why don’t you drop dead and let her marry one."

Curley required everyone in his office to work on constituent problems. As Governor, he persuaded banks to lower mortgage rates, something they had not done in a quarter century. As Mayor and Governor he got lower rates for public utilities. Jobs programs were administered for public works that hired many jobless. Curley was involved in the details of his administration.

Curley died in 1958. Curley’s family let it be known Curley appreciated his life and that people should not despair over the difficulties he faced in life. "It was a good life. He was grateful for it."

Back When New York Needed Reform, As If It Doesn't Need Reform Today

Peter A. A. Berle. Does the Citizen Stand a Chance?: Politics of a State Legislature: New York. Woodbury, N.Y.: Barron's Educational Series, Inc., 1974.

The author became a member of the New York Assembly in 1969. This book describes the New York legislature and how the author believed it needed to be reformed.

New York began representative government in 1641. The Dutch West India Company Director wanted a group that could handle questions he wanted to pose, such as handling Indians accused of murder. Family heads and masters selected 12 Select Men to represent the 400 residents in Fort Amsterdam in approving Indian matters and handling various abuses. The Director disliked the Select Men system and disbanded it.

Peter Stuyvesant, a Governor of the Dutch colony, selected 18 people to administer colonial government in 1647.

The Duke of York created an elected General Assembly for the British government that created 14 laws in 1683. The laws were then sent to the Duke for his approval.

State legislatures of New York used to meet in January through the time for spring farm planting.

Elections for Speaker and leadership are usually not based on issues. Legislators usually vote according to rewards for committee positions, more staff, jobs, etc.

Bills often passed according to their being supported by key legislative leaders. Few legislators read all the bills they vote on. As one legislator once commented, “It's easier to pass these bills than it is to read them."

The Speakers has tools to influence how legislators work. One is the threat of redistricting to make it difficult for legislators out of favor with the Speaker to be reelected.

The Speaker often instructs committee chairmen as to which bills are to be reported out of committee. Many bills are killed by never leaving committee. The Speaker can further kill a bill that is approved by a committee vote by not bringing it to a vote by the Assembly. In New York, the Speaker may "star" a bill which indicates it will not be brought to an Assembly vote. This effectively gives the Speaker veto power over committee approved bills.

In New York circa 1973 and before, a legislator who was present was considered present for the rest of that week. Thus the legislator need not have been on the Assembly floor to be counted as voting "yes". This allowed the Speaker to move the bills the Speaker faces. This could be thwarted by a slow roll call, which requires each member to be present and to announce a vote verbally.

Legislative committees filter legislation. A bill’s sponsor must formally request a committee to consider a bill. Thus, legislators often propose bills they don't want enacted. Legislators often propose bills for appeasing constituencies that they recognize are not good ideas to become laws.

Berke notes the lack of professional legislature gives an advantage to the Governor in presenting data on issues. Professional expertise was then controlled by the Executive branch.

In New York, all bills in all committees are transferred to the Rules Committee a few weeks before the end of the session. The Speaker chairs the Rules Committee and picks its members. Thus the Speaker has great control in the final weeks.

The Governor, unlike legislators, is elected statewide and responsible to the entire state. The Governor is given the power to veto bills the Governor believes are not good for the state.

The Governor proposes a budget. The Governor often negotiates for legislators to support his budget in return for supporting bills the legislators want. The Governor also controls patronage jobs that can be used. Similarly, the Governor has been known to fire patronage workers sponsored by legislators after the legislator disagrees with the Governor on an issue important to the Governor.

Bills are required to be on legislators' desks for three days. This is done in the belief it will give the legislators time to read the bills. Bills with a message of special necessity may be brought to votes more quickly than three days. The Governor often proposes bills with special necessity on the last days of the legislatures to rush legislation through passage before legislators can fully scrutinize and question the bills. This is also done to rush bills through before opposing groups can mobilize against them. Berke observes the Governor is powerful enough to alter the usual checks and balances between government branches.

Lobbyists used various methods to advocate for their positions. Corrupt legislators have been bribed. Many lobbyists meet with legislators and present their points for their positions.

The New York circa 1972 and prior had a history of hiring legislative staffers who perform no work. This is done to reward political workers who helped elect legislators. Political leaders often favor candidates who will then deliver no show jobs for them to offer. Sometimes former legislators are hired for no show jobs. This sometimes happens when a former legislator needs some additional time of employment to qualify for a pension.

Berle notes the saying that "only fools, millionaires, or thieves can afford to be assemblymen." Legislative pay is small for part time employment.

Berle encourages citizens to become more informed on issues and to become more involved politically. This can lead to positive reforms of the legislative process.

Berle recommends announcing bills for legislative votes a week before the votes. He also believes legislators should be physically present in order to vote. He also advocated changing the committee membership of a 2 to 1 majority to minority distribution to one that increased minority representation. He further believes both caucuses should have professional staff. He argued for committees retaining jurisdiction over bills through the entire system. That would reduce the Speaker's powers.

Berle argues for also reducing the Governor's powers. A professional legislative staff could be a check on the Governor.

New York then required candidates to report contributions, but there were no enforcement. Berle also support lobbying disclosure laws.

Citizen Activism in Connecticut That Does Not Involve Yachting

Toby Moffett. Nobody's Business: The Political Insider's Guide to State Legislature. Riverside, Ct.: The Chatham Press, Inc., 1973.

The author notes that, circa 1972, there was little citizen activism on state legislative issues. The largest force tat changed state legislatures were court decisions on legislative redistricting.

The author worked for the Connecticut Citizen Action Group (CCAG) that advocates for stronger environmental and consumer protections. They fought increasing phone rates before the Public Utilities Commission. Phone rates were consistnely increased annually.

Moffett notes legislators often rely on informaiton on legislation from industry and lobbyist documents and statements.

A problem with citizen movements, Moffett observed, is they are loosely organized, unlike professional lobbyists, and they tend to be slowed down by "petty infighting".

CCAG complied information on all Connecticut state legislators. They discovered many public records actually were inaccesible or no longer existed. They checked transcripts and travel vouchers to determine which hearings and meetings legislators aattended. They noted the statements on issues the legislators made, They interivewed legislators, They noted the reasons given by those legislators who refused to give interviews as to why they refused to be interviewed.

18 legislators refused to participate in CCAG interviews, Their analysis found those who resisted interviews were also those who were representing special interests more than their constituents.

CCAG discovered most Connecticut legislators did not hold office hours for constituents to meet with them. ///those that held office hours found few people visted during those office hours.

a 1300 page profile of Connecticut legislators was produced. Individual legislator profiles were sold for $1. The complete report was sold for $25 for the public and libraries, $50 for state agencies and unions, and $100 for lobbyists and corporations.

Republicans and Reform Both Begin with "Re"

Eugene Hickok, Jr. The Reform of State Legislatures and the Changing Character of Representation, Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1992.

The author argues the legislative process involves a mix of political ideals, legislative personalities, and legislative procedures. He sees legislative reform driven by frustration with Federalism and with politidcians. He sees more incumbents facing defeat and more approval of term limits. He sees more Federal responsibilities transferring to state governments.

Representative government should strive to create policies for their constituencies. They should do so in a responsible manner that reflects the views of those they represent.

Until the 1990s, most state legislators were part time amateurs. Many states had unequal representation in the number of constituents served by different legislator. Legislators further were demanding a greater role in state issues. Legislatures became more professional and operated full time.

Charles Greenwalt and G. Terry Madonna note the Pennsylvania legislature in 1969 was called "the house of ill repute" due to corruption and special interest influence. They state it has since reformed and improved. It is now a full time legislature. It though gained high public disapproval when it approved a $3.3 billion tax increase. The House passed the tax increased by 103 to 99 with 11 if 103 Republicans voting in favor., The Senate then passed it by 26 to 24 with 11 Republican Senators, mostly in leadership, voting in favor.

Legislators in Pennsylvania began introducing more complex and detailed proposals. This increased the number of bills introduced while also lowering the percent of bills introduced that were enacted. Professional staff allowed members to better understand legislation. This increased knowledge has reduced the previous tendency of legislative friends voting for each others' bills without fully understanding what all the bills did.

The book argues that reducing the number of legislators would increase competition to become legislators. They note Pennsylvania legislative incumbents increasing were being less challenged politically. In the midterm election of 1962, 78% of incumbents were turned out, compared to 64% in 1974 and 54% in 1990

Hickok argues legislative reform is not likely to begin among legislators. Reformers and legislators becoming sympathetic to reform are what will make a difference. Hickok believes reform is more likely in states that have initiative and referendum, which Pennsylvania does not have. He further does not see Pennsylvania as likely to adopt initiative and referendum.

And I Have Not Run for Office for Six Months Now

Ron Gomez. My Name Is Ron. Memorirs of a Louisiana State Representative. New York: iUniverse, Inc., 2000.

Ron Gomez was a singer and stand up comic who ran for and was elected to the Louisiana state legislature. He served three terms.. He admits he made mistakes. He is proud that he remained honest through his career, unlike what he saw happen with many other legislators. This was a legislature where the Senate Pro Tempore once announced a Senate vote as "trial lawyers 26, insurance companies 66."

The Louisiana legislature is famed for being the site of quote such as "if it weren't for the Rural Electric Association, we farmers would still be watching television by candlelight" and "I don’t know anyone here that's been killed by a handgun."

The author recalls admiring the Louisiana Capitol building as a child. It is a building with an unusual shape for a Capitol building. The shape is one that made Bob Hope comment “this damn city's got a hard on." Gomez recalls working at the building he admired and observing its many artistic details.

Gomez was a radio announced who eventually covered state government news. We was also the Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce President. He had never considered running for office before age 44. He and the Chamber of Commerce membership supported building a convention center in Lafayette. The Mayor opposed this. He decided it would be helpful to fight for the convention center from inside government. He ran for an open State House seat.

A person observing Gomez early in the campaign observed Gomez had not walked around and met the people in the room. Gomez realized he needed to go out, work crowds, and speak with many people he had never met before, He began campaigning hard.

Gomez tried to campaign by going to every voter. He observed he could reach about 90 homes in a night, half the time there was no one home. In only four or five homes of those who answered seemed interested that he was running for office, and of those, only about 10% had a question for him. The most common questions were what party he was and who else was running. Often a growling dog would answer the door.

Gomez led a field of four candidates with 42%, Louisiana holds a runoff between the top two candidates if no one wins a majority, Coming in second was Mary Regan, the only Republican in the race, at 20%. Much of the African American vote favored Gomez in the second round. This voter segment had supported a candidate who had been eliminated in the first round of voting.

In Louisiana, found mostly in the African American community, mostly Democratic supporters drove voters to the polls, told riders which candidates they urged them to vote for, and the drivers could even go into the voting area and "assist" them in voting. Candidates would pay these drivers $25 to $100 per vote based upon past records of success. Gomez did not pay for this but as a Democrat running against a Republican his name was included among those with the Democratic drivers.

Gomez noted much of the African American vote went for Republican David Treen for Governor over Democrat Louis Lambert. Treen paid to have election day pamphlets with Treen's voting number to be distributed to voters. Some Democratic voters than changed the pamphlets by hand to get voters for vote for Lambert. Treen carried the African American vote in Lafayette but not be as much as was expected. Treen still rewarded Layfette Democrats with jobs.

As a state legislator, he learned constituents would visit at 5 am, as when a relative was arrested. He observed 70% of constituent requests were not relevant to what state legislators could do, as people reached out with all kinds of problems.

Gomez learned legislators have little privacy. His 22 year old son's auto accident with no injuries was news because he was a legislator's son.

Gomez observed the media gives far more attention to opponents of a bill that passes than to supporters. Negativity makes news, which stirs more negativity towards legislators.

Gomez also notes the media is not good at explaining the legislative process. A legislator may support an issue yet be seen as opposing it because it was amended in a way that caused the legislator to oppose it. He also observes reporters often themselves do not understand the legislative process and there may be errors in what they report. He also learned to give the answer that made sense. Sometimes uninformed reporters would ask flawed questions, such as one inquired during debate on state liability laws, if the U,S. should admit liability in downing an Iranian plane,

Gomez notes some legislators made mistakes. Rep. Carl Gunter defended incest by stating "maybe we would get super sharp kids."

One of the first legislative votes Gomez faced was a bill to raise legisaltive pay. Legislators supporting it urged early approval of it in the belief voters would not remember the vote at election time in four years. Gomez voted against it although a lower pay raise then initially proposed was passed. The Louisiana legislature also later increased their retirement benefits and allowed them collect at an earlier age of 55.

Gomez noted a former legislator was retained by railroad interests to lobby to have specific bills defeated. A legislator would introduce these bills, not to get them passed, but to keep alive the reason for hiring his friend. In return legislators were treated to meals by railroad lobbying.

Gomez learned Louisiana had procurement officials who handled one items and received commissions from the industries from which they ordered. One person received $100,000 in commissioners from light bulb manufacturers. Gomez tried unsuccessfully to get these practices changed.

Gomez continued pushing for a convention center. He was informed his plan was opposed because it did not have bond fees for lawyers, real estate commissions, and guaranteed contracts for engineers and architects. Governor Treen actively oversaw points in the bill. The project was approved and built.

Gomez is critical of four term Governor Edwin Edwards for using his office to enrich himself and his friends.

Gomez observed Governor Charles "Buddy" Roemer a brilliant person who could also develop a closed mind that then refused to listen to logic,. Roemer had mood swings that Gomez believes may have been caused by his diabetes and insulin.

Louisiana had severe financial problems. Gomez criticized Edwards for overspending Louisianans into debt. The state government issued Revenue Anticipation Bonds to escape going bankrupt from one billion of debt. It also created a statewide Recovery District that, similar to local recovery districts, could increase local sales taxes on one cent per dollar.

Gomez voted to seat former Klan member David Duke in the Louisiana legislature. A challenge to his qualifications had been decided in favor of Duke by the state courts. Duke was seated by a 69 to 33 vote.

It is observed much legislation reflects what business or interest it helps. The author describes many frustrations with the legislative process. He resigned to accept an appointment as Natural Resources Secretary.