A part-time legislature would create more full-time problems

Tired of those state legislators, aye? Having anxiety every time they're back in session? I hear you. Believe me, I hear you. Hardly a thing has come out of Lansing recently that hasn't made me want to curl into a fetal position. You know what would teach 'em? If we cut their pay. In half. While we're at it, let's keep them out of action for as much of the year as possible. That'll make things better, right? And while we're at it with our pitchforks, let's burn something to the ground. That always helps.

If we were a state governed by mob rule, sending our disappointing state legislators back home with our fiery torches might feel right. The petition now being circulated by the Committee to Restore Michigan's Part-Time Legislature to create a ballot measure that would change the state constitution might just scratch that itch. But we're not, and we shouldn't hope to be, a state that governs by wild emotion and mob mentality. If we want government to work better, we should try using our brains, not our pitchforks.

As a journalist covering business and innovation, I spend a lot of time talking to successful entrepreneurs and executives about their successes. Not once, when discussing employee management, has an executive said that cutting employee pay and hours in half produced a better result. From a business perspective, it's an insane proposition.

Why should it be so different in Lansing? We are the bosses of Michigan's legislators. If we want them to perform better we need to raise the bar, not lower it.

Disincentive to serve

Running for state legislature in Michigan is already a questionable career decision for any capable, well-educated person. It's a rigorous job, and thanks to term limits, the longest "career" anyone could hope to sustain in the biz is six years. It's simply smarter to spend those six years working toward tenure elsewhere. A lot of intelligent people agree, so they don't run.

Add to that pay so low that it would require a second job, and who would ever bother? What kind of regular job allows for employees to miss a few months of work each year to leave town and work another gig? Anyone who needs to earn an honest living simply could not afford to do it.

So who would take these jobs? The answer is the independently wealthy and those who can't hold down a better job. Or those to whom power is more important than feeding their families. These would be our legislators.

Incentive to go dark

Unchecked power by lobbyists has already placed Michigan among the most corrupt states in the U.S. How much more powerful will those free lunches be if legislators literally need help paying for their meals? How much more beholden to dark money will our lawmakers be when when they're in genuine need of income?

Whether they're members of congress or Gap salespeople, employees are accountable to whomever signs their checks. If we want them to be accountable to us, we'd better be paying them more than rich donors with policy agendas.

Professionalism goes kaput

The National Council of Legislators' Karl Kurtz doesn't like to distinguish state legislatures as being full-time or part-time. He calls them "professionalized" and "citizen" bodies. Perhaps nothing says more about the difference between the governing models than this.

Governing a state is an important job. If you feel you've been negatively impacted by any of the legislation coming out of Lansing recently (I do!), you know how crucial it is that lawmakers do their jobs well. We don't let undergraduates do surgery, we don't allow interns to manage IPOs, and we shouldn't put a system in place that guarantees amateurs and run our state.

A part-time legislature will not save any significant amount of money. There are, in fact, no measurable benefits to going part-time, particularly for large, complex states like ours. It will only serve to discourage smart professionals from even attempting to run for office, and encourage lots of dark money to further control those who do. It's time to put down our pitchforks and run our state like the nine million citizen CEOs we are. Let's raise the bar, not lower it, and hire some real professionals to start doing right by Michigan.

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

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Fri, 02/21/2014 - 12:41pm
Republicans in the current legislature make no sacrifice for their "public service". Instead, they have wáged war on the middle class and seniors while enriching friends with tax cut, contracts and climate designed to enrich both the legislators and the wealthy. Think for a moment Jase Bolger will leave the legislature as a poorer man?
Fri, 02/21/2014 - 7:13pm
As someone who's skeptical about the part timer issue this article raised the following questions ...Of the 50 states how many of them currently have part-time verse full time legislatures? Do those part time states have problems finding candidates? Do you have any evidence that members of part time legislatures are more wealthy than full timers as you assert? Your article states Michigan is among the most corrupt states. Why don't see more convictions and prison sentences of our legislature members? If Michigan is so corrupt, why do you think it will be worse with a part-time legislature? Do you have evidence showing more corruption in part timer states verse full timers? I missed your reasoning on this. For that matter I missed the reasoning in and reason for this entire article.
Arthur Thomas
Sun, 02/23/2014 - 8:26am
To answer your question, only 4 states have full-time legislatures, of which Michigan is one. We also pay our legislators more than any of the other states, except for 3.
Sun, 02/23/2014 - 9:11am
Arthur is factually correct, but failed to mention that Michigan has the strictest term limits in the nation. The combination of our term limits and a part time legislature hands the power to the Governor and unelected bureaucrats. Our representatives wont have enough time to understand where the restrooms are, let alone all of the complex issues in the budget.
Mon, 02/24/2014 - 12:01am
I wonder if Ms. Burg is a correspondent or an advocate. She claims to have such insight into the business world and how they only see jobs as fulltime. It is disappointing that Mr. Burg didn’t look at the roles and responsibilities when asking her questions. The fulltime people in business are commonly involved in day to day activities that address the needs of the staff and customers. She fails to describe how Legislators have those daily responsibilities. I wonder if she considered the roles and responsibilities of the Boards of Directors for large businesses and asked if they were fulltime jobs. “…it’s an insane proposition.” This remark seems more of an emotional comment on the people that propose the idea rather than an informative critique of the idea. My understanding is that only a few of States have fulltime legislators, and since many of those States with part time legislators have better economic, educational, financial ratings then Michigan I am hard pressed to see the insanity of the idea. I wonder why Ms. Burg doesn’t seem to have made any effort to investigate or at least report on the part-time legislators. Is that advocacy or reporting? When Ms. Burg talks of running for the legislature as a career decisions, I guess she disregards idea of citizen officials that have had other careers. Is she disdainful of our Governor who had a full career outside of State politics before running for Governor? I wonder about Ms. Burg’s understanding of individual motivations. It seems that she can only see money as a motivator. I would offer that there are many at the top of their professions that do it for the enjoyment of what they do, the satisfaction in the impact they have, or in the responsibilities they feel for living where they do. I would be surprise if Justin Verlander only played baseball for the money and not for the love of the game, that doctors and social workers were only doing their jobs for the money and not for help they provide others, that soldiers, police officers, and politicians only do it for the money and not for the pride they feel in their communities. Ms. Burg seems to see greed as the only motivator. Ms. Burg invokes the classic corruption ploy, but in this ploy there seems to be no specifics of the so corruption feared. She should go back to before term-limits and see how long-term legislators were able to use their accumulate power (from decades in office) to manipulate the legislative process to their will rather than the public will and desirers. Is this article reporting or advocacy? Is Ms. Burg providing information for readers to use or is she advocating for her view?
Mon, 02/24/2014 - 9:04am
Arthur, I apologize, I enter my comments in the wrong location. You were specific in the number of states having full time legislators, it is obvious I was not responding to your remarks. This is an obvious example of the limits to my attention and capabilities. Again, please accept my apology for the error I have made.
John Q. Public
Sat, 02/22/2014 - 1:36am
Comparing the ability required of legislators to that of technical fields like medicine, law and finance isn't laughable; it's insulting. The idea that a full-time legislature results in better government rests on the shakiest of premises: that those who have a talent for winning elections also have a talent for running the state. The caucuses value a policy wonk far less than someone expert in Mason's Rules, and in the Standing Rules, whereby they can use procedural manipulation to screw their opponents. It's a body where form supersedes substance. The less time the same individuals exercise power, both in terms of number of years and in the number of days within any year, the better off those who don't manipulate the levers of that power will be. Our legislature is essentially run by a half-dozen Machiavellians who use the other members by keeping them enamored with the illusion that they, too, have some power.
William C. Plumpe
Sun, 02/23/2014 - 3:28am
John Q. I agree that the legislative process in Michigan needs to be fixed but a part time legislature is not the way to do it. There are dedicated and hard working legislators out there and demonizing them all just feeds the stereotype of the lazy fat cat and helps nobody. As Mark Twain said about democracy: "There are two things you shouldn't watch being made---one is sausage the other is laws". Democracy is the best form of government there is but it can get difficult at times. But don't be lazy and think that a quick fix is going to work. So if that's your attitude you're part of the problem---you get what you're looking for. If I were a legislator I would be offended by your attitude that I am not a professional. What do you know about being a legislator? And for better or worse we are a representative democracy not a pure "vote of the people" government. Besides I think part time or unicarmel legislatures are a too easy solution to a complex problem. My advice is for you to get involved as a citizen in the full time legislative process. Look at the legislature as your responsibility too and just like your business. Would you "part time" your own business? With that attitude you no doubt would fail. Work to hold legislators accountable and make them work for their pay---you are their boss but if you sit back and don't manage what your employees are doing don't complain that things aren't going well. Enough said.
John Q. Public
Sun, 02/23/2014 - 3:58pm
I have no illusion that a PTL will be more effective than a FTL, but I see no evidence of the obverse, though, either. Certainly there are dedicated, hard-working legislators. That's part of the problem--the things to which they are dedicated, and the amount of time they have to work toward those ends. I know plenty about being a legislator. I'm not going to outline the what or how; you can believe me or not. Legislators can take all the offense they want with the stereotypes the institution has earned. If they don't like the image, they can change it, but they choose action that perpetuates it. Interesting that you should give me advice to "get involved" with absolutely no knowledge of my present level of involvement. When one tries to be consistently involved without donating lots of money, one gets a reputation as a gadfly--or worse--and often finds oneself at the receiving end of establishment PR ploys intended to diminish his views. Ask Randy Bishop how that works; he's had some experience being treated thus. You can hold only two legislators accountable. It's not what legislators do that's illegal that irritates me; it's what they do that's legal, and which their constituents support. See. e.g., Jase Bolger and his election-rigging scheme. There's no way he would have survived a statewide election in the immediate aftermath of that, yet the entire state is stuck with him as the speaker because the voters in the 63rd decided that was the type of behavior they like in their state representative. Oh, yes--I've been part-timing my business since its inception, and just completed my eighteenth consecutive profitable year. I've always found that a small number of smart moves trumps a large number of dumb ones. There's plenty more to be said.
Laura Bates
Sun, 02/23/2014 - 7:48am
As someone who has coordinated nonpartisan policy seminars for state legislators for Michigan State University, I an attest that being a good state legislator requires considerable expertise in rather complex policy issues and that one does not acquire this expertise in a few months or even a few years. Issues like health, eduction, corrections, and child welfare are very difficult, and at least the committee chairs must understand the possible impacts of policy changes and educate their caucuses. We saw the negative impact of term limits on legislators' understanding of the issues, and making them part-time will only make it worse. In addition, legislating is about relationships as much as information, and right now legislators tell us it is difficult to form relationships of trust with state department administrators, who are the technical experts in their area, as well as with other legislators.
Mon, 02/24/2014 - 11:14pm
Laura, I suspect your defintion of 'expert' is much broader and less about specialized technology or knowledge. And I have a very soft defintion, somebody that has more knowledge than me and is in 'arms reach' when I need the added knowledge. I wonder how many legislators have an 'experts' knowledge in any subject let alone the ones you mention. I offer that it is more important for legislators to ask practical questions of 'experts' than being their own 'expert' on any issue. Many times there becomes a group think by the 'experts' and the most value can be gained by asking the questions that break that group think. A good example, asking about the unintended consequences can avoid failure of a program before it is authorized. Look at ACA, Obamacare, a few questions about how many will be forced out of their care would have been more valuable then all the 'experts' who said how the new law would ex[and coverage to millions more. It is more important that the right questions are asked and listened to than it is the legislators are 'expert' so they already have the knowledge and don't need to ask the questions. In all the seminars you have coordinated, how many times have you heard the 'experts' admit to a lack of knowledge and needing answers to questions? As for the quality of legislators pre term-limits do you recall how many long term legislators were they because of their expertise on the issues? Or they retained because of their campaigning organizations? I seem to recall there was a 25-30 year legislator that was removed from office not by his lack of expertise, not by votes, but by being the courts for his practices in office. His abuses have not been found to happen since term limits becuase legislators don;t gain the power because they don't have that extend time to develop the power he had. I would remind you, longevity does not garuantee knowledge or expertise or capacity. As for developing trust, true professionals (such as those in government) understand the need for trust and are building it with the public before or inspite of mew legislators. If I have thetrust of the public because my outreach to them when I don't have a pressing need they will be building trust with future legislators. When you coordinate a seminar, how many of the panelists do you personally know and yet you have to trust them to be knowledgable, presentable, to be personalbe, etc. How much time did you take to build that trust? The attitude of belittling legislators because of the limited duration they are in office is an effective method of creating distrust before one has even had an opportunity to meet.
Sun, 02/23/2014 - 7:54am
With Mich (legislators?) amongst the most corrupt in the country, it is time to raise the visibility of this issue with the likes of Bridge and others beginning a stepped up conversation. Where is this corruption, who is involved, and what are some of the steps to bringing it into check? Is it possible this subject of corruption is more significant than what the original purpose of this article set out to discuss, i.e., a full time or part time legislature?
Sun, 02/23/2014 - 9:57am
“It’s simply smarter to spend those six years working toward tenure elsewhere.” This is what is completely wrong with this kind of thinking. The State Legislature is NOT the place for “tenure” this what is wrong with both State and Federal elected offices - they think their “entitled” to tenure. Do you really think the state of Michigan has been well served by Levin (30 plus Years) or Stabennow (13YEARS) in the Senate or House Members - Conyers (48Years), or Dingell (58 YEARS), Sander Levin (30 Years,) Rogers (14 Years), Upton (27 Years), Camp (23 Years)? Yes I’m nonpartisan - if 8 Years was good enough for Washington and Lincoln it should be good enought for the Senate and the House - (City-State-or Federal) Government - all governments - are abusive and the less time they have to “meddle’ in the people freedom the better. A part-time legislature is all we need, we don’t need these clowns messing in our lives any more than absolutely necessary. Being a legislature is a part-time job, designed to SERVE and then go back to your real life, not a place to seek “tenure”.
Sun, 02/23/2014 - 3:06pm
Levin, Debbie and Dingle are all people that have served us very well. Stupid and ignorant do not for shadow good governance. I bet you want a rookie heart surgeon just out of med school. No? Then why saddle us with rookie politicians and legislators.
Tue, 02/25/2014 - 9:34pm
wettershj, I am not sure that the analogy of the surgeon is applicable. There are well identified knowledge and skills. What are the knowledge and skills legislators need to be certified having master prior to being a candidate? What knowledge and skills would you expect a legislator have prior to being sworn in as a legislator? I wonder what criteria you use to determine that Levin, Stabenaw, and Dingell served so well?
Diana Menhennick
Sun, 02/23/2014 - 10:14am
As a local elected official the policies that have come out of the state capitol have had a huge micromanaging negative impact on my ability to govern as my community wishes. Creating a part time legislator should be considered but for the right reasons not for retailiation. The problem with being in politics is the word "tenure". While it takes more than 1 term to understand how the state bureaucratic machine works, being a public servant at this capacity is not a career in which you collect a salary and benefits for the rest of your life for a short time of serving the masses.
Sun, 02/23/2014 - 12:53pm
46 other States operate with a Part-Time Legislature of some form. ONLY California, New York, Pennsylvania and Michigan still have full time career politicians running their state Capitals. Additionally, 92% of America operate their state Capitals with "citizen led" Legislators that live and WORK back in their districts for the majority of the year. (300 days per our proposal). By doing this,...the "people" get BETTER constituent services and have their elected State Representatives and Senators attend their local school board, township and even County Commissioners' meetings on a regular basis. The Speaker of Utah's House of Representatives says it best in her video at this link;http://youtu.be/S-Zss1dkgqE
Sun, 02/23/2014 - 1:23pm
For 127 years Michigan taxpayers had a part time legislature. The only reason we don't have one now is that along with redistricting and a bunch of other changes it was part of the Constitution that was passed in 1963. There is still a provision to require a vote on a Constitutional Convention every 16 years. This is something the voters repeatedly turn down knowing the dangers. We have the opportunity to amend the constitution through referendum, a move that in spite of its difficulty the electorate have chosen over the convention process to avoid what havoc it might bring. At the same time the legislature has made it more difficult for us. As one of only four states with a full time legislature, we are not better governed. We deserve a part time legislature. We thought that term limits might slow them down and it did. But, it did not slow them down enough. If you follow legislation like I do you will come to the conclusion that a lot of it is introduced for show and for purposes of re-election. I am not saying that all legislators are self-serving. But a part -time legislature might be just what we need to free us from some of the rule by lobbyists and into better represent ta tive government.
Sun, 02/23/2014 - 4:51pm
The article is one sided. 46 other States have very successful part time legislatures and only 4 do not which are Michigan, New York, California and Pennsylvania and those 4 States are financially hurting the most, because of their over-regulating/taxing full time legislatures. I recommend all of you go to the following and learn more about this subject from someone who’s a real Part Time Legislator and not from an in-experienced news writer. Just Listen to Speaker Becky Lockhart of the State of UTAH (a part time legislator. GO TO: - - - - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S-Zss1dkgqEThen go to the following:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UEZuZ_MewUQVOTE YES for a part time legislature Michigan! Don’t be fooled again! Go to http://www.parttimemi.com and learn more. This initiative if passed will: 1) Provide for only 60 days secession. 2) Cut Legislators pay to 35,000 dollars per year 3) Force the legislators to develop laws in the field (not with lobby groups in Lansing). 4) Force al legislators to disclose their income and expenses on line and more.
Jim F
Sun, 02/23/2014 - 7:11pm
I favor part-time over full-time. But, without election reform, those with the most dollars to spend sending their "friend" to Lansing will still rule.
J. Strate
Mon, 02/24/2014 - 10:43am
A core American value is limited government, and the initiative seems to be supportive of that. What are the problems inherent in representative government? There's the influence of organized and mobilized interests (special interest group rent seeking), the problem of geographic constituencies (legislative pork), the problem of electoral cycles (legislator myopia), and posturing to public attention (legislator grandstanding). Will lobbyists have an easier time with a part-time legislature? It should be more difficult for them (as it is with term limits), except that they will presumably ignore the ill-informed legislators entirely and target their efforts to the committee chairs, party leaders, and governor. Interest groups should like it--fewer high priced lobbyists needed. What about legislative pork? Part-timers just like full-timers will want to show that they brought some "bacon" home. Legislator myopia? This seems to be a problem with term-limits and should continue with a part-time legislature. We sent you to Lansing for three months and all you did was raise my taxes? A far-sighted legislator would vote for an increase in the gas tax so his/her constituents don't bust up tires and front ends on potholes. Posturing? That's almost certain to go up. If a legislature meets for only a few months, legislators will want to jump up on the soap box and have their say, regardless of the drivel that spills out of their mouths.
Jon S.
Mon, 02/24/2014 - 12:11pm
While I'm not certain that a part-time legislature would be a better thing, are the "facts" in this article correct? The author says that no one could afford to be ONLY a legislature and would have to work another job to support their family. "Members of the Michigan Legislature receive a base salary of $71,685 per year which makes them the fourth-highest paid legislators in the country, after California, Pennsylvania and New York. While legislators in many states receive daily per diems that make up for lower salaries, Michigan legislators receive $10,800 per year for session and interim expenses." (Source: National Conference of State Legislatures). WHAT? What planet or state does she live in? I think probably at least 50% or more of Michigan's "families" are living on quite a bit less than that! Second, I don't think she has term limits right either, unless something has changed. She says that "the longest “career” anyone could hope to sustain in the biz is six years." Um, no. They can serve two terms in the Senate (8 years) and 3 terms in the house (6 years). If they choose to serve in both chambers, they could serve for a maximum of 14 years. The Bridge generally does good reporting. Who missed the fact-checking on this one? Please, make a correction. Propagation of misinformation only makes the citizenry less informed.