Engines of Democracy: Politics & Policymaking in State Legislatures


Alan Rosenthal

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    To those who work at representative democracy and make representative democracy work

    About the Author

    Alan Rosenthal is professor of public policy and political science at the Eagleton Institute of Politics, Rutgers University. He has consulted with legislatures and participated in legislative ethics training and new-member orientations for many years. He has written extensively about state legislatures, including The Decline of Representative Democracy (1998) and Heavy Lifting (2004). In 1995 he received the American Political Science Association's Charles E. Merriam Award, which honors a person whose published work and career represent a significant contribution to the art of government through the application of social science research. In 2006 he was given an award for lifetime achievement from the National Conference of State Legislatures and the State Legislative Leaders Foundation. In 1993 he received the New Jersey Governor's Award for Public Service, and in 1992 and 2001 he was selected to be the independent member and chair of the New Jersey Congressional Redistricting Commission.

    Tables and Figures

    • 1-1 Job Performance Ratings of Legislatures in Selected States 17
    • 2-1 Hours per Week on the Job during the Session and the Interim 48
    • 2-2 State Legislators' Perceptions of Their Time on the Job 51
    • 2-3 Estimated Legislator Compensation, 2007 53
    • 3-1 Legislative Districts 75
    • 3-2 Correspondence of Constituency and Legislator Views 99
    • 3-3 How Legislators Would Probably Vote if Their Views and Constituency Views Were in Conflict 100
    • 4-1 Party Control of the State Legislatures, 1982-2006 115
    • 4-2 Group Support for Democrats and Republicans 118
    • 6-1 Size of State Legislative Permanent Staffs, 1979, 1988, 1996, 2003 186
    • 6-2 State Legislative Term Limits 192
    • 6-3 State Legislative Professionalism 195
    • 6-4 Size of Legislatures, Number of Members 199
    • 7-1 The Perceived Power of State House Leaders, 1981 and 1995 252
    • 9-1 Bill Introductions and Enactments, 2006 Regular Session 308
    • 1-1 Public Attitudes toward Representative Democracy 10
    • 3-1 Constituency Position versus Legislator's Own View or Judgment: Legislators from Five-State Survey 96
    • 6-1 The Partisan Composition of Legislative Staffs 188
    • 6-2 Membership Turnover, 1960s-2006 194


    This book is the product of my observing, trying to make sense of, and teaching and writing about legislatures and the legislative process in the states. It covers most of what I think needs to be communicated to people about legislatures, the people who make these institutions work, and how public policy is made. It includes what legislators are like as individuals; how they relate to and represent their districts; the roles of political parties and partisan competition; the influence of interest groups and lobbyists; the effects of organization and structure; the challenges of ethics; the job of leadership; the power of the governor; and the processes of study, deliberation, negotiation, compromise, and bargaining that are critical to building majorities in the lawmaking process.

    Engines of Democracy is informed by a rich scholarly literature, and it is also informed by my observations of and work with legislatures throughout the nation. I have tried to make this book comprehensive but also readable, so that legislatures are as alive for the reader as they have been for me. It should serve as an introductory exploration for undergraduates, a survey of the field for graduate students, and a guide for members of the “legislative community” including new and veteran legislators, professional staff, lobbyists, and statehouse reporters. If this book gets the picture of state legislatures right, it is because of the great help I have received and continue to receive.

    For Engines and my books that preceded it, my greatest debt is to members of the legislative community. Legislators and their staffs invited me to observe them in their natural habitats, and lobbyists shared perspectives on their jobs and the legislative process. Just about all of the men and women I encountered on legislative terrain appreciate and respect the legislature as an institution, just as I do. They were most generous to me with their time, patience, and trust.

    I owe them all, and would like to thank each and every one of these people who did so much to educate me. To acknowledge them, I would have to mention hundreds of names. Still, I want to name those legislators whose influence on my explorations has been most profound. They are listed here, not by state or seniority, but alphabetically, as follows: Hunter Andrews, Stan Arinoff, Rich Bagger, Dick Bagley, Sam Bell, Peter Berle, John Brandl, Wayne Bryant, Bill Bulger, Al Burstein, Mike Busch, Jack Cade, Ben Cardin, Betty Castor, Lawton Chiles, Joe Clarke, Dick Codey, Jack Collins, Kevin Coughlin, JoAnn Davidson, Larry DeNardis, Alan Diamonstein, Don DiFrancesco, Sal DiMasi, Joe Doria, Tom Dowd, Bill Doyle, John Paul Doyle, Cary Edwards, George Edwards, Mike Egan, Jeanne Faatz, Dick Finan, Herb Fineman, George Firestone, Dave Frohnmeyer, Bob Garton, Bob Graham, Ted Gray, Art Hamilton, Bill Hamilton, Chuck Hardwick, Joe Harper, Kevin Harrington, Marshall Harris, Chuck Haytaian, Bubba Henry, Barbara Hoffman, P. J. Hogan, Gerry Horton, Cal Hultman, Harry Johnston, Phyllis Kahn, Vera Katz, Gerry Kaufman, Bill Kelley, Bill Kenton, Harriet Keysterling, Kurt Kiser, Howard Klebanoff, Bob Knowles, Nancy Kopp, Madeline Kunin, Chuck Kurfess, Jack Lapides, Cal Ledbetter, Jerris Leonard, Larry Levitan, Tom Loftus, Thomas Hunter Lowe, Harris MacDowell, Gordon MacInnes, Jodie Mahoney, Mike Maloney, Marvin Mandel, John Martin, Buddy McKay, Mike Miller, Don Moe, Roger Moe, Dick Moore, Bob Moretti, Ted Morrison, John Mutz, James Nowlan, Frank O'Bannon, Dave Obey, Norma Paulus, Dick Pettigrew, John Pittenger, Bill Ratchford, Pete Rawlings, Jody Richards, Dick Riley, Fred Risser, George Roberts, Joe Roberts, Lew Rome, Sandy Rosenberg, Kenneth Royall, Buzz Ryan, Martin Sabo, Pat Saiki, Steve Saland, Raymond Sanchez, Paul Sarbanes, Bill Schluter, Dick Schneller, Peter Shumlin, Alan Simpson, Bob Smalley, Kevin Sullivan, Steve Sviggum, Gaye Symington, Cas Taylor, Alan Thompson, James Harold Thompson, Jim Townsend, Jesse Unruh, Ruben Valdez, Jack Veneman, Jerry Warner, and Ralph Wright.

    In practically every state I have benefitted from help and information provided by the men and women who staff the legislature, just about all of whom show dedication in serving members and the institution. The staffs of three national organizations that represent and promote the interests of legislatures also deserve my thanks. It has been a real pleasure to work with people at the National Conference of State Legislatures, the Council of State Governments, and the State Legislative Leaders Foundation.

    I am also in debt to my political science colleagues, on whose research I have drawn extensively in this and earlier books. Many of these colleagues are cited in these pages, and I am grateful to them for all their help. Without the literature that political scientists have produced, a work like this could not have been written. Special gratitude is extended to Bruce Anderson, Diana Evans, Thad Kousser, Gary Moncrief, James Nowlan, John Redifer, and Paul Soper.

    Faculty and staff at the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University have my gratitude as well. If Eagleton had not been in the picture, I never would have had the opportunity to carve out the career I have had as a student of legislatures.

    Finally, I want to mention members of my family, who cannot be blamed for my folly. They neither encouraged it nor discouraged it. They were just around, and it has always been wonderful having them around. They deserve much more than mention, but mention is all they will come away with here. My children: John, Kai, Tony, and Lisa, and their spouses, Lisa, Kathleen, and Garrison. Then, of course, their children—my grandchildren, a motley crew—in order of age: Patrick, Kelly, Chas, Dylan, Tori, Mason, Ian, and Emily. My first wife, Vinnie, fits in here. My greatest debt is to Lynda, my present wife, who so expertly typed and proofed Engines in manuscript. Thanks to her, I have been blessed with additional family: Jim and Dorothy, Lynda's parents, and her sons, Nick and Jeremy; Nick's partner, John, and Jeremy's wife, Deb; Lynda's brother, Jim, his wife, Susan, and their daughter, Marisa; and especially Lynda's sister, Carol, who is doing such great work with youngsters in Laos. And last but not least, two more grandchildren: Mac and Emmett.

    I only hope that the quality of this book comes close to the quality of all the people I thank here.

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