Tchaikovsky Sounds Funny: Book Review: "Heavy Lifting"

Is this where I put in key words such as sex, lesbians, vampires, Christopher Lloyd and others things to which this blog do not pertain, but by putting them here, I may get hits from all the Christoper Lloyd lesbian vampire fans (and you know who you are)? This is the primarily humorous and occasionally rambling writings of Leon Tchaikovsky, humor writer. Enjoy.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Book Review: "Heavy Lifting"

Tchaikovsky Sounds Funny

Alan Rosenthal, the world’s foremost academic authority on state legislatures (a high standard that is met even though he is perhaps the only political scientist who concentrates his studies on state legislatures) has published another insightful look into state legislatures. In this latest study, “Heavy Lifting”, we learn that most of the public has a good idea how legislatures operate, and they don’t like what they see.

The legislature system is designed to look bad in the public eye. Legislators may do a good job fighting for their constituencies, and thus garner the support of the people of their district, yet the interests behind these constituents conflicts with interests represented by other legislators. The meshing of these interests lead to struggles, defeats, and compromises that fail to fully please the interests at hand. From the standpoint of constituents that are viewing an outcome that failed to meet their expectation, the legislative process is a failure. From the standpoint of analyzing how legislative systems should operate, the process may be basically the best possible operation.

The expectations the public has of legislatures has changed, according to Alan Rosenthal. Constituency groups decades ago perhaps understood the reality of compromise better than advocates today realize. The media, which observes that conflict is more interesting than everyday good news, seems more apt to cover the battles of ideas within legislatures. The increasing expense and negativity of political campaigns exacerbates the legislatures’ declining perceptions.

The constituent demands upon legislatures appear to be increasing while the available amount of time does not increase. Even gaining support of a majority of both houses of a legislature is not always enough, as the Governor then plays a critical role. Governors present various leadership styles and abilities to cooperate with legislatures, who themselves can be supportive or detrimental towards resolving conflicts between the branches of government.

A good legislator, according to Alan Rosenthal, is one who successfully represents his district’s constituents, is skillful at the lawmaking process, and is able to properly balance the legislative role with the role of the Governor. The author surveyed Ohio legislators and found that 62% of Senators and 56% of Representatives surveyed stated that believed more attention to their representational duties would make them better legislators and that 38% of Senators and 44% of Representatives stated more attention to their lawmaking responsibilities would make them better legislators.

Legislators are busy, including legislators from states where the legislature is considered part time. The author surveyed legislators in five states and discovered that 46% of legislators responding stated they spent 60 or more hours per week at their legislative jobs while 29% states they spent from 50 to 59 hours. The number of hours spent working was higher for legislators who served longer, which reflects the additional duties often given to veteran legislators.

The author believes most legislators do successfully represent their districts. They identify with the people of their districts and their needs. Advocating their concerns before both the legislature and administrative agencies is seen a key purpose of their legislative duties. This provides many legislators with the sense of fulfillment they seek from being legislators.

19,000 people from all states were surveyed. It was found that, over the past two decades, 7% stated they had contacted their state representative and 5% stated they had contacted their state senate. While much of such contact was part of an organized effort to contact legislators, it does show that a sizable number of people have personally invested time in reaching out to their representatives. This contact becomes muddled, as there seldom is a clear and consistent message to legislators uniting his or her constituency. Further, the author concludes that most people do not follow closely follow legislative issues and matters.

The growing nationwide organization of many interest groups along with the increased ability to exchange information is making advocacy to legislatures across the nation more active. Political party identification is a strong cohesive force for most legislators, and party identity and party caucuses are strong factors in determining how legislators respond to legislation. At times, attempting to gain a partisan advantage is a critical part of legislative decision making strategies. This can create difficulties, as legislators may find themselves conflicted between their caucus and their constituencies should their goals differ. The author presents this conflict as perhaps a legislator’s greatest challenge.

While it is difficult to identify exactly what it is that makes a legislator a good representative, the author notes there should be a positive connection between a legislator and the views of his or her constituency, an ability to deliberate legislation, and an ability to provide leadership, although this requires experience and resources as well as the proper leadership skills.

This is an excellent book for students of state legislatures in particular and of governmental decision making in general.


Post a Comment

<< Home

Listed on BlogShares