Tri-City Delegation Weigh In on Proposal to Create a Part Time Legislature in Michigan

Posted In: Politics, State, Local,   From Issue 655   By: Mike Thompson

28th February, 2008     0

They didn't expect support from their regional state legislators and, not surprisingly, they won't get it.

Saginaw father-son attorneys Allan and Greg Schmid, veterans of political petition drives, are once again attempting to create more accountability within the state legislature.

One of their petitions would call for a vote to create a part-time state legislature. The other would establish non-binding public opinion votes, every two years, on every tax hike enacted in Lansing.

The Schmids' announced their plans in Review Magazine's January 10th edition, in an exclusive report still available at review-mag.com.

They will need about 400,000 signatures by early July in order for their proposals to appear on the November ballot.

In this edition of The Review, we are providing responses from Senator Roger Kahn, Representative Andy Coulouris and Representative Ken Horn.

All three, as the Schmids' predicted, oppose establishment of a part-time legislature. Coulouris also offers a flat 'No' to the tax votes, while Kahn and Horn are highly skeptical.

Kahn is a Republican from Saginaw Township, Coulouris a Democrat from the City of Saginaw and Horn a Republican from Frankenmuth.

Review Magazine also made four appeals to Senator Jim Barcia, a Bay City Democrat, but he declined to respond. Ironically, Barcia is one of the few career politicians remaining in Lansing. He has managed a 32-year career by first being elected to the state House in 1976, then serving in the U.S. Congress, and then returning to state government.

If readers wish to inquire on their own, Senator Barcia's email is senjbarcia@senate.michigan.gov and his office phone is (517) 373-1777.

Here are the responses from Coulouris, Horn and Kahn.

Review: Do you agree with the petition proposal for a part-time legislature? Why or why not?

Coulouris: I don't think a part-time legislature solves any of the problems with Lansing that the citizens have identified and with which, largely, I would wholeheartedly agree.
Sure, you would achieve some modest savings, but you would still have to maintain legislative staff to assist our constituents with issues that arise on a day-to-day basis. You would still have to maintain some year-round presence if for no other reason than the constituents I represent aren't "part-time" constituents... they require and deserve full-time attention.
That being said, I know that other states function with part-time legislatures so I'm sure we would find a way to make it work.  Like anything else, it comes with tradeoffs.  We would have to accept less constituent service and less legislative oversight of the bureaucracy, for example.

Horn: My mind is open to a part-time legislature, but after attending a conference of midwestern legislators in Wisconsin shortly after being elected, I'm not convinced that a part-time legislature serves the people as effectively as we are accustomed to in Michigan.
Part-time legislators from other Midwestern states admitted they could not offer constituent services, did not have offices to stay in touch with people who elected them, rarely took phone calls at home, and when they did, simply referred constituents back to the same full-time government agencies they were having problems with.  
With a part-time legislature, I'm concerned that Michigan residents would feel even more out of touch with their government. I also have some concerns about limiting the one branch of government that is most directly accountable to residents of our state.  In essence, we have a lifetime judicial branch, fulltime executive branch and a vigorous and sometimes overreaching bureaucracy.  The one place where the people can have their voice heard and represented would be limited. I'm here as a product of term limits, and plan to serve my 6 years if re-elected.  When I'm done, I hope to vote for representatives with extended terms so that they can garner more experience and depth of knowledge to represent the residents of Saginaw County.
One last concern over a part-time legislature is the notion that a major corporate employer, the size of a Blue Cross Blue Shield or General Motors, could easily hire a part-time legislator during the months they are not in session who could then act as lobbyist directly on the House floor. There is a certain independence in being a full-time legislator.

Kahn: I'm against this because people are looking for full-time service. Nobody ever came to my doctor's office seeking either a part-time physician or an inexperienced physician. I believe they feel the same way about their elected officials.
To say that most other states have a part-time legislature, I believe that is a disingenuous argument.
More than half of states have something either full-time or very close to full-time.
What do the people of Saginaw and Gratiot counties want? Do they want me to tell them that I'm only doing legislative work for 3 months, and that for the other 9 months my office is closed?
This is not along partisan lines. People don't tell me "I'm a Republican and I have a problem." They say, "I'm a constituent and I have a problem."
Legislators are their first line of resolving a problem with the bureaucracy.

Review:  How do you feel about Governor Granholm's offer to accept a part-time legislature in exchange for eliminating term limits?

Coulouris: I think term limits have not served our state well and think we should get rid of them.  I believe, however, if you were elected under term limits, you should have to leave under term limits.  Ending term limits would be a positive for our state and for the policy-making environment in Lansing, but I am not convinced that a part- time legislature would have a similar positive impact.
As I said before, I'm sure we could find a way to make it work. I am just not convinced that part-time is the solution.
Incidentally, it should not go unnoticed that the Executive Branch would support a part-time legislature since it enhances the relative power of the Governor vis-à-vis the legislature.

Horn: The Governor has her opinion, as does any other citizen in the state of Michigan.  It's my hope that the people of Michigan would create a government that would extend well beyond any one governor's term.  I do not favor totally eliminating term limits because indeed we do not want to have career politicians, but an extension of term limits I think would be wise.

Kahn: A part-time legislature and term limits each are terrible ideas on their own, and together they're even worse. By the way, I know of people who are in favor of these petitions, personal friends of mine, who have come to me for help on issues such as health care. So do they want to have it both ways?
At the end of the day, it's not about a paycheck for us. Term limits already have denied opportunities for good people to serve during the middle portions of their adult lives and careers. A part-time legislature would push even more potential candidates out of the picture.

Review:  Do you agree with the petition proposal for biannual referendums on tax increases? Why or why not?

Coulouris: No. We elect our Senators and Representatives for a reason, which is to represent the interests of their districts in Lansing.  We already have referendums on the policies our legislators advocate: elections.

Horn: I'm intrigued by the idea that the people would participate more in their own government, but I'd like to be a little more certain of the petition's intent and ballot language before committing.  If the proposal is only a referendum and not binding, I wonder about the value of the petition drive.

Kahn: I'm ambivalent on this one. I like the idea of people being given the opportunity to participate in the democratic process, in order to redress issues, but they already have that opportunity. They can vote me out. The purpose of this petition is to place a chilling effect on the passage of any raised revenue at any time. Do we really want that? Do we want to allow no opportunity for legislators to raise revenue without facing this type of chilling effect?

Review:  Feel free to comment in any other way.

Horn: An article in the Review on January 10th referred to the Michigan Legislature being "on break," and not returning to work at the beginning of January like the rest of the population.  I want to add some clarity to the term "legislative break."  Legislative break refers to a break in Session (voting daily on the House Floor).  I am available and working, and my office is open, throughout the year. The only exceptions are state holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas.  When I'm not required to be in Lansing to cast votes, I'm working in the 94th District.

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