Part-Time Legislature Plan Fails to Qualify

In a relatively sane moment for California, a proposed initiative to make the state legislature a part-time body has failed to collect enough support to qualify for the ballot.

Slightly more than 800,000 signatures were required for the proposed constitutional amendment, but sponsors gathered less than 300,000 by the deadline for the November ballot.

Under the terms of the proposal, the legislature would meet for no more than three months each year, and legislators would be paid $1,500 per month.

If passed, the change would have meant nothing but disaster for California.

Under a part-time legislature, power would accrue to the governor, who would be in Sacramento year-round, with no one to check his actions.

A few years ago, after I addressed Wyoming's part-time legislature, I asked the governor how it felt to run a state without the legislative branch's help. To which he responded, "I love it."

There's no one to stop me from doing what I think should be done." Imagine that kind of control in California, a state with an economy equivalent to the eighth largest nation in the world.

Under a part-time legislature, power would also shift to bureaucrats who staff departments and agencies year-round.

You can't stop the water program, transportation management, environmental protection, education planning and the dozens of other programs nine months each year when the legislature disappears.

For most of the time, unelected bureaucrats would run these programs without the need to report to anyone save, perhaps, the governor.

Finally, under a part-time legislature, the paltry "salary" would discourage just about everyone from seeking elected office except the wealthy and the retired. Of course, these folks are and should be part of the political mix, but not all of the mix. What about those who want to serve but who need a decent income?

The make-up of the legislature would be far different than the public for whom laws are made.

It's easy to criticize the legislature for all kinds of disgusting behavior ranging from public disregard to private gains. But the answer is to elect better legislators, not destroy the institution. And that role falls to the voters, who need to take more responsibility for our part in the democratic process.

Larry Gerston teaches political science at San Jose State University and is the political analyst at NBC Bay Area.

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