Imagining what kind of candidates would be drawn to a job in a part-time Legislature

One perennial idea for political reform ‒ a move to a part-time legislature ‒ has re-emerged, this time being pushed by Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, who is testing the waters for a candidacy for governor.

Calley has launched a "Clean Government" committee which plans to seek enough signatures to get a part-time legislature Constitutional amendment on the ballot, once he can get petition language that the state board of canvassers will approve.

The idea is to limit lawmakers to three consecutive months of work each year and cut salaries by more than half from their current paychecks of $71,685, less than they used to be, but still the fourth- highest in the nation.

Calley told me the legislature doesn't need to meet all year long to get its work done and that for lawmakers to spend too much time together in Lansing takes the governing process too much out of the hands of ordinary citizens. Advocates also claim this would save "tens of millions" each year, although to get to that target, legislative staff and other expenses would have to be slashed.

This comes after years in which Michigan's legislative culture has been hobbled by some of the most restrictive term limits in the nation. State representatives can serve a maximum of six years, state senators eight – after which they are barred from more for life.

What that does is to doom us to a legacy of legislative inexperience. Critics of Calley's proposal claim that the result would be weakening the legislature's effectiveness and risking an unchecked executive branch of power. Though his proposal is labeled "Clean Government,” it's hard to see how reducing the period lawmakers are in Lansing actually would help clean up anything.

Plus, the obvious big question is what effect moving to a part-time legislature would have on getting well-qualified men and women to run for office.

Who's going to try to get a job that offers around $35,000 salary? World-beaters?  Calley thinks making this a three-month part time job will "open up the talent pool" and attract better people.

Maybe so, but I doubt it.

Realistically, there may be people who like the idea of a job that gives you nine months off each year, during which time they can take another job, But what employer wants to hire somebody, only to see them leave for Lansing for three months every year?

And who wants to take a part-time legislative job that exposes them to the risk of conflict with their regular boss in the real world? Moreover, what do you think most people would put first, when push came to shove: A nine-month job outside of Lansing versus a three-month temporary gig representing “the public interest?”

For those who are skeptical about the proper and competent workings of the Michigan executive branch, consider the likely effect of the bureaucracy running the show without legislative oversight for nine months every year.

In recent years, we've been outraged by the Flint drinking water debacle and the Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency mess that allowed computers to run amok wrongfully cutting payments and doling out unearned punishment to thousands of deserving citizens. Both failings were symptoms of a groupthink executive branch culture lacking vision and obsessed with the bottom line.

Do we really want to give the governor's office more power?

The American political tradition is to be very suspicious of ANY group, within or outside government, running things without oversight or separation of power balance.

We may grumble at our inexperienced lawmakers, but most of them genuinely want to do the right thing and even under term limits have accumulated some experience.

If we flush that away, what remains to take up the slack?

It's hard not to regard Calley's proposal for a part-time legislature as a political gimmick designed to appeal to the Republican base that will pick a GOP nominee for governor next year.

Calley is at present a decided underdog to state Attorney General Bill Schuette, who is already making prosecutorial hay out of the Flint mess. Calley needs a talking point that positions him with the base of the Republican Party, a base that doesn't like Lansing and doesn't much care for the compromises of capable state government under a system of separated powers.

To be fair, when I talked with Calley about his proposal, he told me he's been working on this topic since 2009, when he developed a similar constitutional amendment. "I'm a true believer, not a Johnny-come-lately," he told me, and he's entitled to be taken at his word.

On balance, though, if we're going to fool with the Constitution about the workings of the legislature, it would be far better to lengthen our restrictive term limits and get more experienced lawmakers to manage things in Lansing.

Doing what the lieutenant governor wishes would risk vastly increased executive power with a part-time legislature.

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Tue, 06/20/2017 - 9:16am

Term limits sounded like a good idea at the time, but turned out to have many unintended consequences. I think going to a part time legislature would yield similar results. If I had it to do again I would vote against term limits.

Nancy Brimhall
Tue, 06/20/2017 - 9:16am

If what's been going on legislatively in Lansing the past few years is the best a "professional" full-time legislature can do, it's hard to see how it can get worse. If a successful state like Florida can do well with a part-time legislature, so can Michigan.

Mary fox
Tue, 06/20/2017 - 6:34pm

I wouldn't call Florida successful.

Sun, 06/25/2017 - 8:04am

Nor Michigan

lee kirk
Tue, 06/20/2017 - 9:34am

City commissions, school boards, university regents, county commissions, township boards, etc. all meet year round. Would anyone want those bodies to be idle 9 months each year? If these officials work year round, why would anyone think that the work of legislating at the state level is a three-month job?

Michigan Observer
Tue, 06/20/2017 - 3:09pm

AS I recall, none of the government bodies Mr. Kirk cites pay enough to support a family. The members of these bodies are part time because they must work a full time job.

Brian Loftus
Tue, 06/27/2017 - 11:44am

Most of the public bodies Mr. Kirk cites are part-time positions, as is mine (Township Supervisor). My fellow board members are all successful in a number of fields and bring vast, real-world experiences to enhance their decision making responsibilities, unlike many members of our churning legislature. With remote participation included, this is a concept worth exploring if only to expand the talent pool.

G. Paul Russo
Tue, 06/20/2017 - 9:47am

It may not make a major improvement, but part time legislatiots will save money and get thinks done faster. Lobbyists will have a lot less time to play games and take care of many Long Time members. Some move from House to Senate then Lobbyists. Should also reduce corruption.

Tue, 06/20/2017 - 2:16pm

I can't see the merits of your argument? Corruption is really more tied to "term limits". For instance, how can an out-state legislator (low population) be able to fund a short term, low pay, yet full- time position as it is? Turn it to part-time, you've really got problems of both corruption AND pulling in novice, poor quality folks. Who wants such a job that's serious about governing?
Northern/U.P. (Out-state) candidates don't have the population to support the expense of the run, so they're vulnerable to single large contributor interests (think Mattie Maroun of Ambassador Bridge interest, or the DeVos money). Term limits leave inexperienced folks, who've not been mentored, in charge ---and they also often end-up being controlled by above named funders. We need to eliminate term limits before you'll have a chance at a well functioning legislature of any expertise and professionalism, let alone lessened corruption.

Mary Fox
Tue, 06/20/2017 - 6:36pm

Term limits created corruption by making representatives more vulnerable to lobbyists. Who is going to run for a part-time job? Someone who plans to use the position to get the job he really wants. And a lobbyist will give it to him. Stupidest thing I ever heard.

Tue, 06/20/2017 - 9:50am

You can debate term limits or part time legislature forever. What we lack is getting competent people in government. There are those who have made elected office a career and done nothing. At the same time, there are those who have many good ideas but are limited in what they can do in a short period of time. It would be ideal if we the people could have enshrined in the constitution a set of metrics to determine who is or is not a good politician. Fail to meet the metrics and you would be prohibited from running for another term. Meet the metrics and you would be allowed to run again. Then a part time legislature may make sense because those in office had been proven effective at their job.

Tue, 06/20/2017 - 2:21pm

Term limits need elimination before anything professional will emerge, but a p.t. legislature will only increase current untrained and short-term folks. Truly professional and committed folks are in some presence now; part-time would only decrease this number and the expertise that goes with greater commitment. However, the real source of problems is due to the steroid re-districting of a decade back so that we have a 50/50 state with an all GOP governor and legislature. Not only does that discourage the 50 % of Dems from voting, but it also elects unrepresentative Representatives. Not good for anybody as no consensus-building needed, and I may not bother voting if this keeps up. It's unfair, unprofessional and clearly not a true democracy. Part-timing it is just plain silly idea.

Michigan Observer
Tue, 06/20/2017 - 3:58pm

Rich says, "It would be ideal if we the people could have enshrined in the constitution a set of metrics to determine who is or is not a good politician." Drawing up those specifications would be quite interesting; does Rich have some suggestions? I would like to see them.

Wed, 06/21/2017 - 10:42am

I'd start with 'votes the will of those represented'. We seem to have polls on everything these days so why not measure a legislative person against those polls of his/her district. Then, 'votes to put the will of the district over the will of the party'. If people want a non-gerrymandered district then one who votes to gerrymander the district would go against the will of the district. Also add 'works effectively with others'. The legislatures could even be the ones who decide this. It is done in business where subordinates rate their boss.

I could go on for a long time but you get the idea.

Michigan Observer
Wed, 06/21/2017 - 9:04pm

First, does Rich realize how many polls that would entail? Think of all the amendments the district would have to be consulted about. And if we have a problem now with legislators who lack expertise, think of the problems we would have with their constituents.

John Q. Public
Tue, 06/20/2017 - 6:56pm

Regarding competent people in government, Rich, the enemy is us. The electors prefer the warm fuzzies of someone they know and like over the dry excellence of Administrative Man.

Case in point: I was stunned--no, make that STUNNED--when in the Democratic primary for my legislative district five years ago, a fellow named Doug Drake, whose knowledge of government workings and commitment to the common good dwarfed that of the other two candidates combined (no small feat, as both of them were decent in those areas, too), garnered a whopping 15% of the vote. We get poor performers in government because we vote based on our our social comfort instead of with our intellect. Excellence stomps on our toes and spits in our faces, begging for recognition, and all we care about is whom we'd most like to have a beer with.

Wed, 06/21/2017 - 10:46am

I agree completely. Once worked with a fellow who was convinced some should not have the power to vote. But I think that line of thinking was abolished post 1865. It is a sad fact of life that politicians would rather have a dumb electorate, just like lawyers would rather have a vaguely written law.

Michigan Observer
Wed, 06/21/2017 - 9:11pm

John Q. Public is exactly right when he says, "Regarding competent people in government, Rich, the enemy is us." Our legislators, regrettably, reflect us.

Robert Dunn
Tue, 06/20/2017 - 10:23am

We can talk full time or part time all we want. If we look at the our Federal Government, which is full time and a polarized disaster, what makes one think it will be any different in Michigan? Right now it is polarized and the elected legislatures are committed to their party instead of the state. The same can be said for the U.S. Senate and House. Until we elect people who are willing to care about the country or state we will continue to have this polarization regardless of full time, part time, or limits. For example, a serious issue like health care is being discussed by a small group of Republicans in secret. This is the result of loyalty to the party and not the country.

Disgruntled Taxpayer
Tue, 06/20/2017 - 11:45am

46 of 50 state legislatures meet less, are paid less, and have smaller staffs. And I'm not seeing results that place Michigan, by any measure, in the top four successful states. It doesn't mean that we should jump at Calley's proposal without thoroughly debating its pros and cons, but the current system is definitely not working.

Matthew Delezenne
Tue, 06/20/2017 - 1:07pm

I noticed that the proposal is to cut the time spent in Lansing by 75% but the salaries by 50%. I can imagine many self-employed professionals, like myself, may be interested in serving under those terms. If we also eliminated term limits then perhaps we would get a more efficient and more experienced legislature.

Tue, 06/20/2017 - 1:36pm

Balance of powers is always a good thing, so a legislature that is representative (yes, redistricting is needed) is important. I recall when the chair of the Education Committee admitted to a class of Ed. Leaders at my University that he didn't really know what he was doing, and welcomed input to call him on his cell.
Due to term limits, the rotation and lack of mentoring that occurs in MI's legislature is astonishing. It's also expensive to run for such short time periods in office. So, what happens in this state where only the southeast has enough dense population to raise funds even-handedly to run for the existent posts, is that the out-state posts are heavily contributed (AKA as "owned" by minor interests, such as Mattie Maroun who contribute heavily to these folks campaigns). A lot of things would need changing before any part time legislature could work well for the people in MI. Eliminate term limits and perhaps we'll talk.

Michael Montgomery
Tue, 06/20/2017 - 2:30pm

I've always thought that the original enthusiasm for term limits had its real roots in a desire to punish officeholders. As a result, I've also long believed that we're likely to be stuck with term limits until their removal can be tie-barred to some manner of new punishment of current and would-be officeholders.

A part-time Legislature, however, would nonetheless be exactly the wrong thing to do. Part-time legislatures worked well when America was a predominantly rural nation. Farming was the big occupation and it was completely compatible with part-time legislating (as long the legislative session was in the winter and/or after spring planting and before the fall harvest). Today, however, a part-time legislature is likely to be both less-representative and less capable than a full time one. Yes, there are some very capable retirees and self-employed people who might be drawn to serve as essentially a public-spirited hobby but it is more likely that new legislators will just come out of the lower reaches of the same barrel as the current bunch.

I do, however, have a modest proposal... let's eliminate term limits, maintain a full-time Legislature but just have many fewer legislators.

At 105 members, the Michigan House is very big relative to our state's population. Properly-drawn State House districts should have around 90,000 people each at the current 105 members. Even if you cut the number of Representatives in half, each would still represent fewer than 200,000 Michigan citizens. The Senate could, of course, should also shrink. Something to consider.

Tue, 06/20/2017 - 8:14pm

I'm not sure retirees could be representatives with the income restrictions on another job that they would have to deal with without messing up their social security payments ($35,000 a year I'm sure would be well over that threshold). If you want to mess up your retirement in the name of public service that would either be a noble or stupid thing to do depending on how you want to look at it.

Michigan Observer
Tue, 06/20/2017 - 3:52pm

Mr. Power says, "The American political tradition is to be very suspicious of ANY group, within or outside government, running things without oversight or separation of power balance.", but as Disgruntled Taxpayer says, "46 of 50 state legislatures meet less, are paid less, and have smaller staffs. " And, as I recall, most states have always had part time legislatures; does Mr. Power mean to suggest that they have all been doing things wrong all these years? Which states' executive branches have lacked oversight? Which states have lacked separation of powers? Indeed, some states have very strong legislatures.

Citing the "Flint drinking water debacle and the Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency mess" he says, "Both failings were symptoms of a group think executive branch culture lacking vision and obsessed with the bottom line." Just how would a more experienced legislature have prevented either situation.? Recall that both situations occurred with a full time legislature. And just what is the problem with being "obsessed with the bottom line."? Shouldn't the government be making every effort to deliver the most services possible for the dollars spent?

Personally, I have no problem with a full time legislature; there isn't that much money to be saved by going to a part time legislature. But the real source of a lack of legislative expertise, term limits, will not be changed. There is just not nearly enough support for such a change.

John S.
Tue, 06/20/2017 - 4:36pm

Let's recognize Lt. Calley's advocacy for a part-time legislature for what it amounts to--political posturing. For the tiny number out there who favor making decisions based on evidence rather than intuition and ideology, I advise reading my colleagues' recent book. It's the most comprehensive scholarly study of a state legislature ever conducted.
Marjorie Sarbaugh-Thompson and Lyke Thompson, 2017. Implementing Term Limits: The Case of the Michigan Legislature. Ann Arbor: U. of Michigan Press.
No person who is influenced by evidence, after reading this book would advocate for term limits or a part-time legislature.

Kevin Cousins
Tue, 06/20/2017 - 10:08pm

I understand the concerns about having a part-time legislature. I believe they are not well founded for the following reasons. First, there are several states, some that have similar populations as Michigan. (Colorado has a part-time legislature and my friend who was a Representative for his district in Denver did so, because he wanted to represent his district, not because he wanted to make being a politician a career.) Sure it does have some drawbacks, but it forces them to get down to brass tacks, decide what's important and get the job done in the limited time that they have. If something is not resolved, they can come back for a special session, and these are usually short, but very productive. Furthermore, it doesn't have the same drawbacks that term limits have had, i.e. putting yourself in position for your next elected job.

Wed, 06/21/2017 - 1:11am

When talk about any change to something that has a long history we should always start with what is the purpose, what are the results, what are the special knowledge and skills needed, what are the commitments are expected, we expect now and in the future. We need to establish a foundation of expectations. Neither Mr. Power nor even any of the people commenting mention what are the roles and responsibilities of those offices that will be affected, so how can we be sure they thought any of this through and are not only speaking to what is current/past practice that makes them comfortable?

Recent history has shown that those who simply reject change without analysis and conversation are the barriers to future success. Look are any successful organization and you will see change from history and those that have failed are the ones that have resist change and stayed with the past.

Let’s start with a few of the obvious questions; what is the special knowledge that a legislators gains while in office, what training, what classes, what special skills are part of the current jobs that can’t be developed by part-time people?
What results are full-time legislator delivering now that can’t be delivered by part-time legislators?
What are the activities and actions that are 24/7/365 or 8/5/250 that must be done by legislators?
Aside from what being full time means to the individual, what does having full-time legislator provide to their employers [taxpayers] that can’t be provided by a part-time legislator?

The current legislature structure and support system was designed and constructed before all of us were born. The means and methods for gathering information and communicating with people required face to face, there was an expectation that legislators needed to be close to the seat of power, the nature and function of offices we focal point of activity, etc., the world has changed since then so why should we believe that the nature of the legislators shouldn’t change?
The longer we have doing something the more comfortable we become with it and that comfort becomes a greater barrier to change. Recognize the risks of wishing for the past when dealing with the future.
We need to be asking questions and having conversations before we let our emotional comfort make our decisions for us. What are your questions?

Barbara Stevenson
Wed, 06/21/2017 - 1:21am

As many noted the problem first is term limits ! Second I think it's 39 states not 46 that have part time legislature! Third, according to your recent released report. The majority of michigan citizens do not feel respect or representation from current legislature! Fourth , many of our elected reps either have another job or own a business , others do not actually put in full time work hours ! Fifth, the issue of attracting good, competent, hard working candidates who will put country , state , city first is a serious problem of which both gerrymandering, money in politics and the current polarized , often hypocritical climate stops many from running! Sixth. The disaster of Flint and the inemoyment fiasco are not about size or time in legislature but a sad crony leader mentity as well as a false scenario of cost savings ! As michigan struggles with billion dollar infrastructure needs has the full timeegi saltire worked to solve this critical statewide issue ? This is an important discussion just as voter education and engagement are needed to secure the policies and actions needed to serve our citizens! As someone who has worked as a vunteer in political campaigns for more than 40 years , I have been proud oft candidates like Stephanie chang. Rashida tin, Steve Tobocman and beleive that there are others like them ! Keep this discussion going. Phil!

Wed, 06/21/2017 - 9:13pm


I can vaguely remember one maybe two times when a Bridge staffer engaged in a conversation, and never to encourage a conversation to continue.

I have lived in Michigan and Missouri [part-time state]. The difference I found was that in Missouri they were forced into a discipline of action, they had a limited time so they had to have their proposed legislation by a set date to be considered and they had a limited limited number [maybe 100] of Bills that would be considered. They could be called for a special session, but that was extremely rare.

I think the diminished respect has more to do with the performance [lack of result delivered by the programs and agencies]. If education results were more about success, if roads were more about how they are improving, if assistance programs were more about how many have moved up and out of them, then we would be more appreciative of our elected officials.
I think if they would move the discussion from spending other people's money to the value we are getting for that spending then we would open up the public conversation and could draw the residents into a discussion for developing new/innovative ways to achieve those results. Where Mr. Power seems to feel that by repeatedly winning election somehow bestows a super intellect on those in office, my experience had been that unless the culture you are working is invested in delivering better results everyday then you will simply be driven by doing what is comfortable.
The legislators I have known have known had/have no special capabilities, they all seemed to be like most voters except that they have run for office. What special knowledge do you think legislators gain by serving in office that most of us don't have or can't learn before even running for office?

Wed, 06/21/2017 - 1:16pm

Seems most Bridge commenters place a great deal of confidence in some perceived panel of experts making up the State's legislative branch. Therefore the general hostility to anything that is potentially rocking the boat holding all these experts! The general reverence for incumbency, even though lacking of any concrete evidence supporting their contentions of decreased corruption, partisanship, incompetence and increased effectiveness and state government/economic performance supporting this hostility towards term limits as opposed to non-term limited bodies is kind of curious. (Wasn't Detroit City Council term UN-limited? How did having all that expertise that work out?) What makes typical Bridge readers so reverent towards the our Legislators and Senators? Now comes the Part-time verses full-time legislature question. Not being one to believe this will usher in a new golden age for Michigan, but since again no evidence supporting the cries of impending disaster, one must ask, what's wrong with facilitating our legislators having the pleasure of living and working under the laws they pass?

ron calery
Wed, 06/21/2017 - 3:52pm

term limits has failed.....time to get rid of it and get good gov;t back

Thu, 06/22/2017 - 8:51am


How do measure term limits have failed?

What special knowledge or skills do you think a legislator learns the longer they are in office?

The few legislators I have know were no smarter after years in office than they were when they first came to office, the only difference was there seniority and how many friends in Lansing they had made.

Sun, 06/25/2017 - 9:45am

Duane, Those constantly carping about term limits can not point out any ways where UN-limited term legislatures are anymore effective or less corrupt or any other benefit than are limited term legislatures. I suspect the same is true with part-time legislatures. The only explanation i see is that the left it seems is so enthralled with so idea of a panel of experts wielding government power and that they are hostile to anything perceived at hampering it. As with most government actions anyone expecting nirvana to result from passing or not passing any law , are deluded, it is usually in fact the opposite, but you must admire how so many Bridge commenters keep their faith.

Sun, 06/25/2017 - 9:39pm

I agree.

If we use Mr. Power's articles on candidates, legislators, and campaigning as indicative of the thinking on the politics of governing we can see it is not about results, not about knowledge and skills, its not about roles and responsibilities.

Mr. Power and those like thinkers make it only about liking. The like there view point winning not about impact or lack of results. In this case it has nothing to do with the knowledge and skills gained while in office [no one ever identifies them], nothing about how and why the results are or aren't delivered, it's all about what they want, what they are comfortable with.

The test is how narrow Mr. Power thinks, he can only see part-time in the context of hours and days and months. First, he the responsibilities could that need to be addressed. Second, he fails to consider the world has changed and the way things are/can be done are no longer restricted to time in a single place [Lansing]. Third, if he were to describe the responsibilities he might find there are many more capable people willing to take on the role of legislator while continuing with their current careers.

Mr. Power seems to see everything in dollars, he fails to consider how many people with valuable experiences and capabilities volunteer, and would be willing to volunteer for a legislative role while continuing their careers. Mr. Power fails to recognize that employers are supportive of employees volunteering, consider those who serve in the National Guard.
This issue as so many others are worthy of conversations not pronouncements.

Kevin Grand
Thu, 06/22/2017 - 7:49am

So, here is my question for Mr. Power: What are numbers 4 through 10?

How can you have a conversation with LG Calley and NOT bother to ask him what those are?

Sun, 06/25/2017 - 8:08am

If this reduces the number career politicians I am for it.

Lou Steigerwald
Sun, 06/25/2017 - 8:34am

Spot on Mr. Powers. We are already harmed by the current term limits. Imagine if, as a business owner, you hired people and then replaced each of them after eight years of service, no matter what. Great employee? Does a fabulous job? Doesn't matter, you will be letting them go. Using this analogy I think it is pretty clear that this is a stupid idea with an even dumber practice. There are politicians who are good at their jobs and who care for the people and well being of this state. We should want them to stay and we should want voters to be allowed to help them do so.

Mon, 06/26/2017 - 3:41pm


Business do replace many of their employees every few year, wake up, we live in a mobile society and the old means of instilling loyalty are disappearing, even internally people are mobile. If there are successful people employers move them to keep them interested and to build on their developing knowledge and skills.

What both you and Mr. Power fail to do is describe what special knowledge and skills that can only be developed while in office. You talk about a fabulous job but fail to describe how to recognize it, you nor Mr. Power even name an example of of someone that was fabulous and was lost to term limits.

Maybe you and for sure Mr. Power either forgets or conveniently ignores the environment that motivated people to vote for term limits. It seems both you and Mr. Power know what you want and don't care/respect what other think and are concerned with.

Mon, 06/26/2017 - 6:04pm

Are politicians re-elected because they do a good job? Or are they re-elected because they are incumbents? Do people even know what they did? Fact is most people can't even name their US Senators, and you think they know who is their State Rep and State Senator? Let alone what they accomplished? Who's deluding themselves here? Like it or not, it's the government bureaucracy that runs the government, the politicians are little more than the board of directors.

Tue, 06/27/2017 - 8:52am

Get rid of term limits and we can talk about part time legislatures.We need to update govt to the 21st and 22nd century.Term limits have been abysmal

Matt Korolden
Fri, 09/01/2017 - 12:09pm

We're already an Oligarchy run by the DeVos family. A part time legislature would solidify a theocratic autocracy in Lansing.

Jacqui Schulte
Tue, 02/06/2018 - 5:49pm

Other states have successful party time legislatures. How did they do it? 3 mos. full time is definitely not the answer. 2 full days a week? I'd like to see other options.