- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 16, 2010

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

If, as Henry Adams said, “Practical politics consists in ignoring facts,” then 49 U.S. state legislatures are assemblies of the greatest of politicians and ignoramuses. With most of their sessions plotting to snag more swag from Washington’s largesse next year, have any of them the brains, the spine or the honor to look to their own capitals to cut costs?

For what fact, political and economic, could be more wasteful than the duplication and state-sanctioned double-billing of taxpayers to pay for bicameral legislatures?

In a bicameral assembly, there is no federal principle involved as with Congress on the national level. (If there were, Maryland would be a deeply red state.) There is no halving of the legislative workload because both senate and house bills must be researched, studied and debated by both bodies anyway. Indeed, the money and time spent on the offices, salaries, perquisites and pensions of separate senate and house staffs alone to merge bills is iniquitous. And if there is any increase in ethical and intellectual powers, it is invisible. Even powers of eloquence, such as they are, are most often those of a deflating balloon, loud and empty.

With unicameral legislatures, fewer lawmakers and their staffs would cost less; taxes could even be lowered accordingly. Fewer lawmakers would be more in the eyes of the press and the public before elections and during sessions. That’s why Samuel Bryan, “Centinel,” no lackey of powerful government, valued the press as “the scourge of tyrants” in his 1787 Anti-Federalist paper. And fewer lawmakers would probably mean fewer and better laws, fewer silly proclamations and citations and fewer lobbyists, which might drive down prices and services that finance this legal pimping.

In a unicameral body, checks and balances would not disappear, for the governor, parties and factions within parties would personify Madisonian equilibrium of the people, and state appeals courts would remain to represent the state as a political entity.

Regardless of its merits, only one state in 50 has ever halved its heft. During the Great Depression, Nebraska had the economic honor do so. And so it still stands, alone and still honorable. Recognizing that in the original federal compact the states created the national government, we now have a band of feckless fathers taking bailout cash from its overgrown son during hard times.

Yet even if the legislatures deny their own obesity, not any of the solons lounging within them, all claiming to promote the states’ well-being has suggested state constitutional amendments to abolish, with staffs, perks, office expenses, expense accounts and pensions, other duplicative follies:

c The lieutenant governorship, replaceable with a hood ornament on the governor’s limousine.

c The office of treasurer. Cannot the comptroller perform the treasurer’s duties?

c The offices of state prosecutor, peoples’ counsel and public defender. Should not these be telescoped into the office of the attorney general?

c The office of secretary of state. With no need for drafting foreign treaties even in the days of the Articles of Confederation, is this boondoggle necessary? In the Maryland constitution, this secretary’s job is “to attest to the governor’s signature on all public papers and documents” and to be “the repository of all executive orders and proclamations and is responsible for their distribution.” Is there not in all official Annapolis a computer or even a notary public, filing cabinet and mail room to carry out these labors?

As in Maryland, so elsewhere. As in the Great Depression, so now. Or as H. L. Mencken observed then, “How can any man be a democrat who is sincerely a democrat?”

Of course it could be argued that one of these duplicative offices will be the egg that hatches one of the future assemblymen whose wisdom will guide his state as that of Pericles did Athens.

Until then, wishing that legislators move to abolish one of their own henhouses is idle fancy.Spoiled eggs don’t jump into the skillet.

H. George Hahn is professor of English and director of the graduate division of humanities at Towson University.

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