Thursday, June 09, 2011

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.


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