"State Legislatures," the official journal of the National Association of State Legislatures, suggested in a commentary in its July/August 2010 issue, that issues and internal disruptions in today's legislative bodies need "a process that clarifies the current problems, (and shows) what changes are needed and to put those remedies into place."
A new book, "Engines of Democracy: Politics and Policy in State Legislatures," by political scientist Alan Rosenthal, confronts the "ailments" afflicting legislatures, the journal reported.
The descriptions are familiar:
- Partisanship. In excess it leads to incivility and a lack of willingness to negotiate and compromise.
- Integrity. The public pays attention to the rare scandal and brands all legislators with them.
- Deliberation. The undermining of work by standing committees heightens partisanship and diminishes compromise and consensus.
- Public cynicism. Distrust discourages people of good will and good intent from running for office.
- Institutional commitment. The lack of respect for precedent and the integrity of the legislative institution erodes respect and the ability to work.
Mississippi's legislative process is in some degree afflicted with all those ailments - in both parties.
Rosenthal poses questions to get at addressing problems. In summary, they are:
- Does the legislature effectively share power with the governor? Does the redistricting process provide a product meeting requirements without undue partisan advantage?
- Do members provide effective constituent services? Does the legislature take into account statewide interests? Is power inside the legislature balanced? Does the majority party have enough clout to get things done?
- Is partisanship reasonable? Does the legislature have integrity and behave ethically? Do citizens have access to participate? Does the legislature study and deliberate effectively and enough?
- Do members protect the institution of the legislature? Does the legislature have adequate resources, and are they managed well?
Answering those questions for Mississippi is necessary, and the only way to achieve that is involving citizens outside the legislative institution to participate in an evaluation process.