Why is it every time the Legislature arrives at this point in its session, do people start talking about shrinking its size? Is it really the size of the body, or is it the issues that seem to fall on deaf ears? What I mean is what I hear from a majority of people: “It doesn’t matter what we say,” they grumble. “The Legislature is going to do what they want anyway.”

Mark Twain once said that “no man’s life, liberty or pursuit of happiness is safe while the legislature is in session.” I hear this all the time from folks who know me, either from appearances on the radio station or read this monthly feature “Political Animals.”

The truth of the matter is, I think, there is little interest by politicians to make the Legislature smaller. (Do you know anybody that would make a plan to lose political power?) While there is no “magic bullet” to reform and streamline the legislature, some things can be done with planning and I daresay logic. I present my top ten ways to achieve these reforms:

1. Stop talking so much about legislative size. It’s not the primary issue.

2. Create a citizen/government BRAC-style commission to achieve the nonpartisan goal of legislative efficiency. As I said, politicians are incapable of devising plans that may contribute to one of their parties losing power.

3. The number of bills introduced has increased to a ridiculous number. This year, there was celebration about cutting to almost 1,700! We should limit number of bills legislators can submit by years of service: freshmen can introduce two bills; sophomores four bills, juniors and seniors up to eight bills.

Many bills are recycled and promoted by lobbyists and special interest groups. The majority of these groups are nonprofits vying for tax dollars to fund their organizations. I have no issue with them, but do have a problem with legislators who advocate for these organizations who are employed by them or have family working for them. (This is nepotism, don’t you think?)

4. Prohibit termed-out or defeated legislators from working in state government for a minimum of two years. The Legislature has taken steps to disallow legislators from lobbying within two years of leaving the Legislature, but have not addressed legislators from going to work for government agencies.

The roster of agencies is a “who’s who” of ex-legislators: the commissioner of the Department of Conservation, the Attorney General, the commissioner of the Department of Economic and Community Development, the Secretary of State, the State Auditor, the director of the Maine State Housing Commission. The list goes on.

5. Reform “clean election” laws to disallow recipients of public funds to raise money and operate Political Action Committees. If politicians can raise money for their PAC, they can run a privately funded campaign.

6. Require the Legislature to eliminate wasted session days. When I served, there were numerous days we were required to be in the chamber by 10 a.m., just to run through the day’s journal in about an hour and then adjourn. The comment you would then hear from fellow legislators was they could have been on job that day, instead.

7. Term limits has not achieved its goals and has actually achieved the opposite. This law has entrenched incumbents and affords them a competitive advantage in campaigning for re-election. Here’s what I mean: legislators are allowed to do an end-of-session mailer or questionnaire of their district. The cost for a challenger to do this is about $2,000. (Then multiply $2,000 by 186 lawmakers.)

Though legal, is it fair for incumbents to be able to buy something with taxpayer dollars that challengers must pay for themselves?

8. Change terms from two years to four. In my experience, the first two years has a steep learning curve; it takes that long to find the restrooms, cafeteria or Revisor’s Office. It is well known in Augusta that if you don’t get a politically charged issue settled during the first year, it likely won’t get settled. The second year of the session starts re-election campaigns.

9. Require all voters provide proper, legal identification to register to vote. Same-day registration and voting procedures in Maine has raised questions of abuse and fraud, especially in college towns where college students may vote vote. The Maine Constitution is clear as to who can and cannot vote.

10. Restrict early voting and absentee balloting. These processes used to be designated for people who would be out-of-town, such as military personnel, to have the opportunity to have their voices heard. Now they have created a race to see who can win the early vote, to try and secure the win before Election Day. This is a high cost in both producing such ballots, not to mention to the integrity of our process.

So I ask once more, does size of the Legislature really matter? One thing that must be remembered about the Legislature is not its size, but the people who are elected! As always, I look forward to your opinions!

Scott Lansley lives in Sabattus with his wife and two children. He is a former Republican legislator, a selectman and chairman of Androscoggin County Republican Committee. E-mail: [email protected]


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