Tuesday, October 20, 2015
CUT STATE GOVERNMENT, NOT REPRESENTATION!
Weekly Opinion Editorial
by Steve Fair
Nebraska is the only state in the U.S. that has a unicameral legislature. Unicameral means there is only one chamber. There are 49 members of the Nebraska legislature, who are referred to as Senators, even though this is no Senate. The members are elected non-partisan, which means they do not have to declare their political Party affiliation. Nebraska was like the other states until their U.S. Senator, George Norris, traveled to Australia and saw a unicameral parliament at work in Queensland. Legend has it that after Senator Norris retired he made it his mission in life to move Nebraska from the two chamber system to unicameral. The ‘Unicameral,’ as it is referred to by Cornhuskers, met for the first time in 1937. Norris answered those who said the two chamber system provided checks and balances with this quip: "They say we have a system of checks and balances," Norris would say. "Well, we do. The politicians cash the checks and the lobbyists keep the balances."
Some in Oklahoma agree with Norris and are promoting the idea for Oklahoma to move to a unicameral body and send one half of the state legislature packing. Currently there are 101 members of the State House and 48 members of the State Senate. Supporters of Unicameral want to whittle the number of lawmakers down to 70. Advocates for unicameral concept say eliminating half the legislators will not only save money, but that Oklahoma government will be more efficient.
If Oklahoma were to move to a unicameral legislature, first the people would have to approve it in a statewide vote. That would require an initiative petition drive, requiring 123,725 signatures of registered voters gathered in ninety days. The unicameral is not a good idea for the following reasons:
First, there is no such thing as a non-partisan race or office. Every candidate and elected official stands for something and while they sometimes don’t like to wear the label, they should identify which side they are on. For the most part, Republicans believe in smaller government and lower taxes, Democrats, larger government and more taxes. If a liberal Democrat runs as a conservative to get into office, but governs as a liberal, voters didn’t do their job. Non-Partisan races are nothing but opportunities for elected officials to hide their values and beliefs. Every race should be partisan- from Dog Catcher to President, including the judiciary.
Second, reducing the number of state legislators will drastically decrease the amount of influence each Oklahoman will have with their local lawmaker. Currently a House member represents 38,396 Okies. Under the unicameral proposal, a legislator would represent 55,400. In 1975, an Oklahoma legislator represented 27,475 Okies. Today that number is 30% higher. Accessibility to local legislators by average citizens is critical for good government. Today's Oklahoma House members represent 12,000 more Oklahomans or 30% more than their 1975 counterparts. Instead of decreasing our representation, perhaps its time to add to the legislature.
Third, reducing the number of legislators will increase the amount of influence lobbyists and bureaucrats will have on Oklahoma government. Influence peddlers would love to have less lawmakers to buy lunch for and give free tickets to. Bureaucrats would love to have less oversight over their agencies. Reducing the number of legislators makes it more easier for them to influence the process, increasing the possibility of waste and fraud.
Fourth, reducing the number of legislators will simply not save that much money. Sure, some monies would be saved by reducing the number of representatives, but the savings would be little compared to the overall size of the state budget. The savings would be less than .03% of the state budget- a minuscule amount.
Fifth and most important; legislation tends to move very quickly in a unicameral. That means bad legislation can be passed and signed into law before it has been properly vetted. A unicameral legislature provides little opportunity for revision of bills. The single chamber could pass ill-considered bills with ‘unintended consequences,' with no safeguard. Our founders were wise in having a two chamber legislature. As Will Rogers said, “the reason we have a Senate and House is because if the House passes a dumb bill, the Senate can fix it.”Oklahoma government does need to be streamlined, but there are far more places in Oklahoma state government that need cutting before we start trimming our representation.