Search This Blog

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Deliberation in Kansas

Our chapter on federalism discusses deliberation in state legislatures. At The Wichita Eagle, Professor Burdett Loomis writes:

[L]egislatures everywhere are in trouble. To an extent this is because these bodies are fundamentally misunderstood by citizens who often recoil from legislative "bickering." Well, that's what legislators do — they talk, sometimes loudly, sometimes at the same time, and often to little effect.

Legislatures operate under arcane rules, and at times minorities can legitimately complain about arbitrary rulings. Still, members are mostly civil to one another and can deliberate in good faith, often compromising to get things done.

Increasingly, however, legislatures are failing at performing their basic job of deliberation — of talking things through to come up with well-considered laws.

In Congress, a growing number of legislators simply do not want to engage in the legislative process that has served us well for 220 years. Rather, they pledge never to raise taxes and they hold the debt-ceiling bill hostage to pure party politics, thus eliminating the potential for useful deliberation or productive compromise, even in the face of enormous problems.

Kansas has a very different partisan makeup. And the current Legislature, with its overwhelming conservative Republican majority, can pass almost anything it desires. Given a rookie administration and lots of new legislators, swept into office on a national tide, there's little perceived need for deliberation and almost no need to compromise.

The only reason for any deliberation or compromise is that the Senate, while under GOP control, is not nearly so conservative. But population trends, redistricting and well-funded challenges to moderate Republican senators could well change that.

With their separation-of-powers format and two-chamber legislatures, the federal government and the individual states were not designed for strong party rule. The framers never foresaw political parties, but they certainly worried that dominant interests might overwhelm representative government.

For more on this subject, see: