Legislator Reform: Better Fewer, But Better

Daniel Schuman wrote a great piece for us earlier this week about why higher pay for members of congress is a good idea. But while I agree with him about this, the basic issue is much more acute at the level of state legislatures. There you all too often have badly underpaid “part-time” understaffed legislators who end up dangerous dependent on lobbyists for basic information and ideas about what to do. You want legislators who are sufficiently well-funded (both personally and in staff terms) to make it possible and desirable for them to really figure out how to serve their constituents effectively and get reelected.

And in the state context, I think there’s a relatively easy way to do this—have fewer legislators! At the national level, we have a bicameral legislature because of the overall workings of the federal system. But the non-Nebraska states have bicameral legislatures for no real reason. If you simply eliminated the lower houses, you’d end up with substantially fewer state legislators. Then you could pay them more and offer them more staff. It’d also be easier for citizens to keep track of who their elected officials actually are (can you name who represents you in your state legislature?) and make the electoral competition for the seats more fearsome.