Finley: Make them part-time, Part Two
Interest in a part-time Legislature is stronger than I anticipated.
Since writing Sunday that the failure of lawmakers to produce a road funding agreement in last week’s brief summer session merits placing them on part-time status, I’ve been overwhelmed by calls and emails from those who want to add their support to the movement.
More than 5,000 have signed the online petition asking that the issue be placed on the ballot in 2016. I intended the petition to demonstrate support to those with the resources to launch and fund such a ballot initiative, and hoped to get at least 1,000 signatures. We blew past that goal by noon of the first day. And the signatures keep coming.
As do the ideas for improving the proposal to include broader reforms.
The most common suggestion is that along with making the Legislature part-time — and cutting member pay and benefits commensurately — that term limits be lifted to improve the experience and quality of lawmakers.
That’s a change I’ve long urged. Term limits have left Michigan with an inept Legislature whose members are solely focused on jumping to their next political jobs. Part-time bodies would accomplish the goal of term limits to create citizen lawmakers, without churning them through the House and Senate so fast they never gain any expertise.
Voters will likely not lift or extend lift term limits if presented as a stand-alone change. But they might see a part-time Legislature as a fair trade.
Another idea frequently expressed is to go to a unicameral Legislature — instead of having an upper and lower chamber, there would be just one body.
I’m not so enamored of that idea. Michigan may be too large and diverse to get effective representation from just one chamber. But it’s worth exploring. Nebraska currently is the only state with a unicameral legislature.
A business leader suggested also addressing the politically divisive issue of drawing legislative districts as part of the process of reforming the Legislature. The partisan nature of redistricting leaves the state with districts drawn to consolidate political power, rather than to group together citizens with common interests.
The businessman advised cutting the number of House districts to 99 from 110 to reflect the decline in Michigan’s population, and Senate districts to 33 from 38.
He’d then require three House districts to be wholly contained within each Senate district. That would make it much harder to gerrymander the lines to gain partisan advantage.
That’s a proposal that could gain some traction as Michigan renews the debate over how to draw the new districts required after the 2020 Census.
The citizens of Michigan are clearly dissatisfied with the status quo in Lansing. They recognize the Legislature is increasingly dysfunctional, and they want change.
If you agree, there’s still time to add your name to the online petition. Find it at detroitnews.com/legislature. Let’s not pass on this opportunity to fix a problem that is holding back Michigan’s progress.
Follow Nolan Finley at detroitnews.com/finley, on Twitter at nolanfinleydn, on Facebook at nolanfinleydetnews and watch him at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays on "MiWeek" on Detroit Public TV, Channel 56.