|Written by PT Editors|
|Wednesday, 28 March 2007|
"Governments, like clocks, go from the motion men give them."Our system of "checks and balances" arose from just concerns about the abuse and concentration of power. The structure also reflected the need to recognize and direct the diverse interests of "an extended republic" into coherent policy and effective government. Mechanically, the Framers parceled out a single source of political authority among separate departments and levels of government. They hoped to insure a political equilibrium by creating multiple centers of authority among different branches internally, and vertically, though a federal structure. It was a novel idea, and it worked.
But the country's early leaders also realized that no matter how carefully they balanced competing interests within the Constitutional framework, their ultimate success depended upon the men and women elected to public office. Their ability to work together in a principled manner towards the common good would ultimately determine the success or failure of their efforts.
The human side of the Framers' plan has been highlighted in Q&A's with Wyoming State Senate President, John Schiffer, Tony Beard Jr., California State Senate Chief Sergeant-at-Arms, and Oregon State Senator, Avel Gordly. Says Senator Gordly, "We need to be intentional about creating the time and space to build our relationships with those we work with, regardless of their political perspectives or geographic concerns. By taking the time to listen to one another, we're able to find that common ground that we can build on." That way, adds Senator Schiffer, "when you get out on the floor you're not debating with a stranger, you're debating with someone that you've had supper with the night before—someone you know."
But as our stories highlight, institutional structures also shape behavior and the legislative process. "The State of State Government" suggests that issue-based politics are still alive and well—in many of our 50 state capitols. And even though some legislatures' "institutional memory" has been undermined by term limits, they have also produced less entrenched, more responsive lawmakers. The articles also underline the challenge that all elected officials face: balancing their personal beliefs, what the voters want, party politics, interest group pressures—and good public policy.
In short, "no legislature or legislator is perfect, but many seem to be rededicating their efforts to the true purpose of their position: serving the citizenry whose trust they hold." We might ask ourselves, why have citizen-lawmakers across the 50 states been more successful at this task than the professional politicians in Washington?