Posted by Jesse Shayne on January 17, 2017 at 3:11 PM
Unicameral Legislature makes sense
For several years I have been aware Iowa needs a major overhaul of its Legislature. We have witnessed gridlock on important issues; political infighting and inactivity when action is sorely required.
What I am about to suggest won’t happen in my lifetime, but like all good gardeners, I am planting a seed that eventually may flourish.
We need an amendment to the Iowa Constitution to establish a nonpartisan, unicameral legislature of 50 members.
In spite of pious election-time proclamations by candidates that they “will reach across the aisle,” the so-called hands of friendship more often resemble a fist. Parties must be excluded to avoid the shambles experienced in Kansas and Louisiana. Since cities have been declared nonpartisan in Iowa, cities are better run than the state. There also is a financial reward.
Our legislators get $25,000 annually and $140 per diem (Polk County $100) for the 13 weeks the Legislature is in session. People serving on standing committees get year-long per diem. That’s a base price of $3.8 million for 100 representatives and 50 senators, not counting full- and part-time nonelected help. You say that’s not much savings? Well to paraphrase the late Everett Dirkson, a million here and a million there comes up to real money.
It sounds like a simple solution. It won’t be. The General Assembly must propose a constitutional amendment, or there is an automatic ballot referral in Iowa every 10 years that can force a Constitutional Convention. From there, the people must ratify the amendment by general vote.
God love our ancestors who were naive enough to think the General Assembly would move to decimate its own ranks. Nobody but the most ardent egalitarians would sacrifice power for the good of the state. Nobody but nonparty members would vote to dissemble the party structure. Yet, in the Sept. 19 issue of Bloomberg Business Week, a poll showed 75 percent of Americans think our political parties are corrupt. How will we rid ourselves of this mess? Simple. We the people must do it ourselves.
A huge groundswell of public opinion could persuade legislators to act. Two million signatures on a petition would get their attention. Then there would be a fantastic fight by lawmakers and their fat-cat backers, who put up millions to buy favorable legislation. Editorials would be written by conservatives designating the petition backers as baby killers and kitten crushers.
The people must remain resolute. One way is to start voting out incumbents who won’t back an amendment. Another way is to show some enterprising politicians 50 points of view can meld into some pretty good compromises and good legislation can ensue, where under the party system nothing ever would be accomplished. The elimination of obstructionism between House and Senate will be a horror of history.
A simplified Legislature makes it easier for John Q. Citizen to assess progress from Des Moines. That, in itself, can be a blessing.