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The old statehouse, she ain't what she used to be.

Legislators, lobbyists and staff agree: It's tougher these days to legislate.

Editor's note: In a special session at NCSL's 1993 Annual Meeting, 10 veterans--present and former legislators and staff members who together represented 277 years of legislative experience--talked about how and why legislatures have changed. Karl T. Kurtz was moderator. Here are excerpts from his edited version of their comments.

Legislative Life

Al Abrams, New York: There's a loss of community and family in the legislature today. It isn't fun anymore. It's so competitive both within the same party and between parties that there isn't the time to do even the legislating. Most of the members' time is involved in campaigning, and the staff do a lot of the legislation and negotiation for our leaders. In the last 20-some years, the leaders rarely appear on the floor.

Patrick Flahaven, Minnesota: From a staff point of view, the greatest influence has been the growth of staff. Another great institutional change is the growing influence of women. Twenty-two years ago, women were limited in the job opportunities they had. Now women serve in virtually every staff position, partially because there are more women members and they chair committees. You also see women in the lobby corps. Lobbyists are no longer old men smoking cigars and taking people out to dinner. Instead, the thrust of lobbying is to educate members, not entertain them.

Another great influence comes from introduction of the microchip processor. Computers, voting machines, faxes--technology has changed the legislature.

Senator David Nething, North Dakota: One of the things that I miss from when I started in the mid-'60s is the kind of representation we had from the community--the automobile dealer, the lumberyard dealer, a banker. In short, a strong group of people who could offer information in debate from their own experiences. Today's legislators come from more specialized orientations--they are people who spend a great deal of time on complicated subjects and are given an opportunity to develop expertise. It's harder for these people to come into the legislature and find their niche.

In North Dakota, we still meet every two years. That keeps it fun. The increased pressures on legislators come from the length of session, the complications, the high partisanship--not necessarily a Republican-Democrat partisanship, but more an issue partisanship.

Representative Dorothy Felton, Georgia: One of the major differences is the education level of the legislators. Today we have people who come to the legislature who have more formal education, but I don't know that they are better educated. When I joined the General Assembly, we had a lot of people who had been in World War II and had been around the world. They had a broad view. We've just had a third of our House taken over by new members. Some of these really young legislators who come in with all these degrees don't have anything but book knowledge. We need the citizen legislator with some real practical experience. It requires more than book knowledge to be a good legislator. It takes the ability to get along with other people and to know how to build coalitions. It's important for someone to have been a true success at something before they're elected to office. Otherwise they're going to think that the legislature is the greatest thing they've ever done. They believe their own press releases, but they just don't have the depth of true knowledge. Speaker Joe Clarke, Kentucky: The most dramatic change in Kentucky is that the governor no longer runs the show. When I first went to the legislature you didn't need too many lobbyists because everything went to the first floor, not the third floor where the legislature is. There was no budget process. I remember stories about the governor coming in and making his budget address and the appropriations committee meeting in the back of the room and voting the bill out of committee before he left the room. We had a governor who sent all the Democrats a list of how to vote on each issue. Every once in a while you'd have a governor who was neutral on an issue (like what to make the state rock) but by and large they were pretty specific in what they wanted. Now people are starting to say that the pendulum has swung too far and the legislature's gotten too strong. It's taken a long period of evolution, a constitutional amendment, a benign governor and all kinds of other complications to make the legislature independent in Kentucky. I don't think it's gone too far. The difference now in gubernatorial power is personality. Sometimes you get a weak governor and strong legislators. Eventually it balances out. That's the most dramatic change in Kentucky.

There's More Casework

Senator J.B. Banks, Missouri: Constituents today are far closer to their legislators than they were 20 or 40 years ago. The Capitol is more accessible and district offices have made the constituency more accessible. Democracy is working better because people can reach their legislator. That to me is great progress, but it's tougher on the legislators.

Bill Russell, Vermont: Legislators spend more time on casework. We provide them no personal staff so they do constituent service all by themselves. The central, nonpartisan legislative staff provides bill drafting and fiscal analysis, but we don't do members' constituent work. And I've heard a lot of complaints that they do have a lot more casework. It's also beginning to cost something to run for the legislature in Vermont, and that hasn't always been true. It used to be all you would need in order to get around to see everyone in your district was the amount of money it took to put gas in your Volkswagen. Now some of the Senate races are costing upward of $10,000. That's not big money, but it's a big increase because it's up from nothing.

Have We Created a Legislative Industry?

Serge Garrison, Iowa: Back in the '60s, there was a drive to create more staff. We had national organizations that were giving money to study legislatures. The state legislature was the place where the action was--the feds were giving us the work. So we all went out and got staff. Staff started to move around, professionalism started to grow. At first we had more bipartisan legislative staff, then came the partisan staff. We in turn were able to put out more legislation. Legislation got more complex. I can still remember the first energy crisis: We had an extra 3,000 bills in Iowa because everybody wanted to solve the problem.

The lobbying corps also got more complex and gained more expertise. That's why you see different kinds of lobbyists today. Then along came pollsters and professional campaign people. Everything grew. We created a legislative industry.

We've also developed grass roots lobbying efforts. We lobbyists help bring people closer to the legislators. We want constituents to talk to legislators a lot of the time. So, the job gets tougher for legislators, and it gets more complex.

It's Harder to Lead

Abrams: These legislators today are more independent than they ever were because they raise their own money. They have their own PAC sources, and they don't care about their local county party leaders anymore. They are very independent people. So a leader has got to be really smart to bring them along. Karl Kurtz: One thing that is different about leaders today is that most leaders in the '60s went home when the members did. They went home to plow or sell insurance or teach school or whatever. Very few leaders today are anything less than full-time with the legislature. The legislature itself may not be full-time, but in most states the job of a leader requires at least three days a week in the capital out of session.

Lobbying Is More Complex

Linda Adams, Colorado: Issues have become more complex in the legislature. It's not just taxes anymore--it's employee benefits and environmental issues and social policies that affect how companies do business. There are many more lobbyists. They're a more diverse group--just as legislators and legislative staff are--and a more professional group. And there are more lobbyists representing a citizen concern or a single policy issue like abortion or animal rights.

Garrison: When I was a staffer I couldn't write a bill without a discussion with lobbyists from both sides of an issue so we could come up with a bill that would solve a problem, but not destroy anyone's business. Today, as a lobbyist, I don't have that input because there's a greater mistrust of lobbyists. Certainly, there are more of us, and we're probably driving a lot of legislators crazy both at home and at the statehouse because of our phone banks and other grass roots campaigns. We use those techniques because many legislators don't want to see us at the statehouse. It's partly the ethics issue. Under our new Iowa ethics law there's very little we can do except talk to legislators at the Capitol. We can't go out to lunch, and we don't do a lot of things we used to do to gain access. We have about 40 new members in the legislature this year, and we don't know them very well. They are being taught not to trust us, which makes lobbying extremely difficult.

Clarke: We've seen a big change in lobbying from back when the governor ran the show and lobbyists only needed to talk to one guy and didn't fool with the 138. Now we're in the midst of a grand jury investigation regarding lobbying influences on legislators. We've passed tough new ethics laws that are significantly changing the relationship between lobbyists and legislators--the exchange of money and favors and the like. But beyond the legislation, just the fact that the investigation is going on is changing the attitudes of both lobbyists and legislators. They're both very wary.

Representative Patricia Skinner, New Hampshire: We've seen a growth in another kind of lobbyist. They're usually not registered, but they represent taxpayer groups. They are extremely vocal and have publications that stir up constituent response. Frequently, they're not very well informed, but they have a strong voice, and it's becoming louder and louder.

Committees Have Changed

Clarke: The committee system is the heart and soul of the legislature. That's even more true today because the issues are so much more complex, and the volume of legislation is getting worse all the time. If the committees don't function properly then you get a lot of garbage on the floor, and it's hard to handle it there. The work has to be done in committee. The most critical thing a leader does is to appoint the members and the chairs of the committees. Skinner: We rely very much on our committees and their recommendations. The strength of the legislature lies in the committees. In my 21 years in the legislature, committees have grown in strength every session.

Flahaven: I think the influence of committees has declined. We've gotten into a situation where no matter what a committee does, bills are debated and amended endlessly on the floor. Amendments that are either passed or killed in the committees are offered and debated again on the floor. Years ago, once a committee had done its work, many senators were afraid or reluctant to offer amendments on the floor because they might incur the wrath of the chairs or committee members. Democratization has given everybody a second shot. The Media

Flahaven: Ever since Watergate, the attitude of Capitol reporters, both press and electronic, has been far different. Woodward and Bernstein empowered the media and gave them a different focus. They must have started teaching things differently in journalism school. Reporters are more confrontational, seek more recognition and try to emulate the Post's investigative reporting. Watergate influenced how reporters treat politicians.

Abrams: In the big states, talk radio shows have had an influence. They're very popular. Legislators, though, have struck back. Many legislatures have their own TV studios and taping facilities to help them get their own message across. Many of these states have interview programs in which legislators interview other people. It gets them off the spot. We do have some armament.

Flahaven: We're just starting to see the effects of talk radio on politicians. And I'll bet it's going to get worse as time goes on because it's a very base and non-thoughtful way to conduct public affairs. It's another bad influence on what can happen in the legislative process.

The Panel

Al Abrams: The patriarch of state legislatures, Abrams has worked with the Legislature for 56 years. A former secretary of the Senate in New York, he serves as counsel to the New York Senate.

Linda Adams: A lobbyist for AT&T in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, Adams has worked for and with Legislatures for 21 years. She's been on the staff of the Illinois and Connecticut legislatures and NCSL.

Senator J.B. Banks: Majority leader of the Missouri Senate, Banks has 25 years of experience in the legislature.

Representative Joe Clarke: Speaker of the House in Kentucky, Clarke has been in the legislature for 24 years. He was chair of NCSL's first Committee on Ethics and Elections.

Representative Dorothy Felton: A member of the minority party in Georgia, Representative Felton has served in the Legislature for 19 years.

Patrick Flahaven: Secretary of the Senate in Minnesota, Flahaven has worked for the Legislature for 22 years. He is a past staff chair of NCSL.

Serge Garrison: A former director of the Iowa Legislative Service Bureau, Garrison lobbies for multiple clients. He has worked for and with the Legislature for 31 years.

Karl Kurtz: NCSL's director of State Services, Kurtz is a self-professed legislative junkie who has been watching and working for legislatures for 23 years.

Senator David Nething: A past president of NCSL, Senator Nething has served in the North Dakota Legislature for 26 years. He was majority leader for 10 years in the late '70s and early '80s.

Bill Russell: A past staff chair of NCSL, Russell is counsel to the Vermont Legislature. He is a 21-year veteran of legislatures.

Representative Patricia Skinner: A former member of the NCSL Executive Committee, Representative Skinner has served in the New Hampshire Legislature for 21 years.

How Legislatures Have Changed

Ten percent (747) of today's legislators have served since 1978. They agree that the old statehouse ain't what it used to be. A survey of these long-time members asked about different groups and their influence on the legislature, about different norms of behavior in the legislature and how they've changed, and if they agree or disagree about a series of statements about the legislature. The study, which received a 43 percent response, was conducted by political scientists Gary Moncrief of Boise State University and Joel Thompson of Appalachian State University. Here's a breakdown of what they found:
Whose Influence Has Increased

 Net Increase (%)(*)

Committee staff 56
Media 55
Personal staff 43
Lobbyists 38
Partisan staff 31
Committees 26

Whose Influence Has Decreased

 Net Decrease(*)

Legislative leadership -22
Governor -10

How the Job Has Changed

 Total Who Agree (%)

Increased pressures of job 92

More constituent service demand 87

More time spent doing casework 84

Legislators more likely to seek 68

Importance of executive branch 56
oversight has increased

Changes in the Legislature

 Total Who Agree (%)

News coverage more 86

More time spent raising 79
campaign funds

Diversity has changed 75
type of issues

Legislators more concerned 69
with district

New members less likely to 68
learn norms

New members less likely to 66
be seen, not heard

More likely to give priority to 64

More likely to campaign 62
against legislature

* Percent who said this factor increased, less those who said
it decreased.

Karl T. Kurtz is NCSL's director of State Services.
COPYRIGHT 1994 National Conference of State Legislatures
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1994, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:includes related articles; legislators discuss changes affecting legislatures during National Conference of State Legislatures' 1993 Annual Meeting
Author:Kurtz, Karl T.
Publication:State Legislatures
Article Type:Panel Discussion
Date:Jan 1, 1994
Previous Article:Our beleaguered institution.
Next Article:Citizen legislators - alive and well.

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