The Part-Time Legislature Means Full-Time Conflicts of Interest

I grew up in Texas, where we have a part-time legislature.  My sister was friends with the daughter of our legislator.  That’s all well and good, but given his salary wasn’t even enough to survive on during the session, his money came from elsewhere.  And for him, it came from the insurance business.

He was an insurance broker, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. But the question then is how much of a conflict of interest can we stomach? Are we ok with insurance companies paying the bills of legislators overseeing a budget of about $100 million per year? Providing legislative oversight for a variety of industries, including the insurance industry?

And guess who is right there behind all of this, our chief insurance “regulator” Insurance commissioner Steve Poizner

State Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, who is vying for next year’s Republican gubernatorial nomination, has called for a part-time – and more populist – Legislature.

“I am an avid proponent of changing the mix of people in the Legislature through converting the Legislature from full time to part time,” Poizner said. (SacBee 9/29/09)

Perhaps Poizner is just taking his rage out on the Legislature for not getting to join the august body. Back in 2004, when he spent about $6 million of his own money to lose to Ira Ruskin by three points for AD-21.  Dude was seriously pissed, lashing out both publicly and privately.

Poizner expected money alone to carry him to victory, and a part-legislature means the legislature is a body for those who can afford it.  It becomes a body of the rich and the well-connected only. It becomes less representative of people from all walks of life rather than more representative.

But beyond that, it just doesn’t do as good of a job in the important tasks of governing.  When dealing with a budget of California’s size, and when representing either about 450,000 people (assembly) or nearly a million for senators, you simply need somebody who has as his or her main task the duties of a legislator. We can’t be having legislators taking business calls on the floor of the session. We simply need people who can dedicate themselves to the job.

The part-time legislature is a great idea if you are on the side of big corporations, who can afford to run people of their own choosing. If you are just a regular Californian trying to have their voice heard, it’s a stunning disaster waiting to happen.

UPDATE by Dave: The real revelation in Steve Weigand’s article is how the Texas legislature, despite being part-time, has a full-time staff and costs as much per capita to the citizenry as California:

“The idea was to have a citizen Legislature here,” Greenberg said. “But clearly, to take the necessary amount of time off of work, some would argue that it actually limits involvement (to retired and wealthy people), so this is an issue that is constantly debated.”

In addition, Texas lawmakers rely heavily in their absences from the Capitol on a full-time staff that is virtually the same size as California’s.

All that adds up. Texas taxpayers spent an estimated $343 million ($14.10 per resident) on their Legislature over the past two years, compared to about $500 million ($13.60 per resident) in California.

4 thoughts on “The Part-Time Legislature Means Full-Time Conflicts of Interest”

  1. This is another in a series of Steve Wiegand’s efforts to mainstream and normalize right-wing framing about our state’s government crisis. As Dave pointed out the truth is that our full-time legislature is a pretty good deal for Californians.

    Of course, the true comparison should not be to other states, but to other national governments, such as the Congress or the parliaments of comparatively sized European nations. California absolutely should not be governed like Wyoming.

  2. The part-time legislature advocates are really in favor of delegating even MORE power to the unelected, unaccountable, invisible, permanent professional staff, consultant and lobbyist classes?

    That seems wise.  

  3. ‘Term limits have effectively left the staffers and the lobbyists in charge of running Sacramento already’ – and since they are interchangeable, mostly, a part time legislature is just the headstone on the grave that already holds the corpse of Democracy in California.  

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