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The Kentucky Legislature

The Kentucky Legislature: Two Decades of Change

Copyright Date: 1988
Pages: 312
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  • Book Info
    The Kentucky Legislature
    Book Description:

    Twenty years ago the Kentucky General Assembly was one of the least powerful and least effective legislatures in the country, almost entirely dominated by the governor. Over the past two decades the legislature has changed -- gradually and with little public attention -- into a far more powerful, professional, and independent body.

    This book is a study of that process of change: its causes, the obstacles encountered, and the political and policy consequences. It is a study of changing relationships between governor and legislature, caused in part by less aggressive gubernatorial leadership and in part by the growing assertion of legislative independence. It is also a study of the men and women who initiated change and who play major roles in the legislature today.

    One important area of change has been in the kinds of persons elected to the legislature. Today's Kentucky legislators are more professional in their approach to legislative service, serve longer tenures, and are likely to be committed to long-term political careers. They work harder to become known in their districts, and they devote more time to constituency service.

    In preparing this study, Malcolm E. Jewell and Penny M. Miller interviewed and sent questionnaires to many past and present members of the Kentucky legislature, as well as examining election returns, roll call votes, and committee records. They also traced developments since the 1960s to provide historical perspective.

    The Kentucky General Assembly is not a "typical" legislature. It is less professional and meets less frequently than those in most states. But trends in the Kentucky legislature are typical of those in other states, and this book puts the changes in Kentucky into national perspective.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5970-6
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Tables
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. List of Figures
    (pp. ix-x)

    • [Part One Introduction]
      (pp. 1-2)

      The theme of this book is legislative change, and the focus is on the Kentucky General Assembly. It is intended for two audiences: those who are interested in the government and politics of Kentucky and those who are interested in the comparative study of American states.

      Traditionally, the legislature has been regarded by most Kentuckians as weak and ineffective, less important and less interesting than the governor. No one can understand Kentucky politics today without recognizing that the legislative system has undergone fundamental change. No one can make sense of the conflicts and debates between the governor and the legislature...

    • 1. Studying Legislative Change
      (pp. 3-12)

      In 1966 Alexander Heard introduced a book on American state legislatures by describing the charges brought against them, which he said “often emanate from impeccable sources and are supported by credible evidence.” Summarizing these criticisms, Heard (1966: 1-2) said:

      They range from allegations of personal bribery to the doleful conclusion that much of the time these institutions of representative government so conduct themselves that the popular will is thwarted. Even if all the legislators were models of efficiency and rectitude, as indeed some of them are, most state legislatures would remain poorly organized and technically unequipped to do what is...


    • [Part Two Introduction]
      (pp. 13-15)

      Thirty years ago most members of most state legislatures were amateurs, in almost every sense of that word. Most served for only a few terms; in fact, every two years four out of ten were replaced by new members. Because of this brief tenure and because legislative sessions in most states were relatively brief, most members did not develop expertise as legislators, nor did they become specialists in such fields as education or taxation.

      Most legislators were also political amateurs. They did not perceive themselves as career politicians. In counties where party organizations were strong, legislators often owed their nomination...

    • 2. Getting Elected to the Kentucky Legislature
      (pp. 16-42)

      Like most states, Kentucky elects its representatives every two years and its senators every four years. Unlike any other state, Kentucky elects its legislators at a different time from its election of the governor and other statewide officers. Kentucky is one of the very few states that chooses its governor in odd-numbered years (1979, 1983, 1987), and until very recently legislators were also elected in odd-numbered years. A constitutional amendment adopted in 1979 moved the legislative elections to even-numbered years (coinciding with presidential and congressional elections) and left the gubernatorial election unchanged. This means that state legislators can run for...

    • 3. The New Legislators
      (pp. 43-71)

      The primary purposes of this chapter are to describe the members of the Kentucky legislature, to show how they are different from earlier generations of legislators, and to explain how and why these differences have occurred. We will begin by simply describing the basic characteristics of members, noting where they differ and where they are similar to members in earlier periods. We will then turn our attention to the most dramatic change in legislators over a forty-year period: the drop in turnover and the growing proportion of experienced members. In order to understand why members are serving longer terms in...

    • 4. Representing the District
      (pp. 72-94)

      American congressmen devote time and attention to their districts. During sessions most of them return nearly every weekend to the district, and between sessions they spend most of their time there. They use the full range of communications devices, from newsletters to radio and television broadcasts, to reach their constituents. They maintain district offices, and a substantial proportion of their staff time is devoted to providing constituency services and gaining benefits from the district.

      Increasingly, American state legislators are following the pattern set by congressmen. A recent study (Jewell 1982) of legislators in nine states showed that members are conscious...


    • [Part Three Introduction]
      (pp. 95-96)

      Thirty years ago most American legislatures were relatively weak and ineffective, and some were corrupt. Some legislatures, particularly in southern states, were dominated by governors. Other legislatures were dominated by interest groups, particularly in states with weak party systems or in those where one or two economic interests were predominant. Still others were not necessarily weak, but were controlled by powerful party leaders; as a consequence, the committee systems were weak, and the average member had little influence on decision making.

      As legislators began to recognize the need for reform and sought to strengthen legislative institutions, they moved in several...

    • 5. The Remodeled Committee System
      (pp. 97-130)

      Committee systems are found in all state legislatures and in Congress, and on paper they look very much alike. In many states the committees have similar names and jurisdictions; most bills are assigned to them for review; they hold hearings and make recommendations to the full senate or house on legislation. Committees usually have authority to kill bills, and in reality this authority is usually final. In recent years most legislative committees have had at least a minimum of staff assistance. Despite these surface similarities, there are many variations among legislative committee systems in the independence, power, and decision-making processes...

    • 6. Legislative Budgetary Review
      (pp. 131-149)

      In addition to passing legislation, the General Assembly can influence the policies and programs of government in two major ways: through reviewing and amending the the governor’s budget and through overseeing administrative decisions of the executive branch. In the early 1960s, budgetary review consisted almost literally of rubber stamping the executive budget; there were no committees actively engaged in oversight of the executive. In recent years the legislature has played a much more active and powerful role in both budgetary review and administrative oversight. In both cases the legislature’s role has grown because of revitalization of the committee system. In...

    • 7. Legislative Oversight
      (pp. 150-178)

      In the last decade, Congress and the state legislatures have dramatically increased their efforts to oversee executive agencies, not always successfully and some times half-heartedly. Legislative oversight of executive agencies is highly decentralized and takes place in many different locations in the legislative organization. In Kentucky legislative oversight may be performed in a variety of ways and to varying degrees, ranging from mere monitoring of activity to actual control of what agencies do. Hamm and Robertson (1981) delineate seven different types of oversight activities: casework, budget review, investigative hearings, review of administrative rules and regulations, program evaluations and sunset laws,...


    • [Part Four Introduction]
      (pp. 179-180)

      The trend toward more professional legislators and legislatures is common to most states, but there are some important differences among the states in how power is organized and how decisions are made.

      In many state legislatures there has been a trend toward longer tenure for legislative leaders, particularly in those chambers where there used to be a tradition of rotation after one or two terms. At the other extreme, it is now very rare to find a presiding officer or floor leader serving in that post for more than four or five terms. There has clearly been a trend toward...

    • 8. Leadership and Political Parties
      (pp. 181-216)

      The influence of legislative leaders in the American states rests on both their formal powers and their skill in developing and using informal tools of leadership. In nearly all states, the Speaker of the House has a broad range of formal powers. He appoints and removes chairmen and members of committees, occasionally with the assistance of a leadership committee. He has some discretion in sending bills to committee and often chairs a rules committee that controls the movement of bills from committee to the floor. As presiding officer he has considerable discretion in recognizing members and controlling the tempo of...

    • 9. The Governor as Legislative Leader
      (pp. 217-239)

      A decade ago Larry Sabato (1978) wrote a book entitledGoodbye to Goodtime Charlie: The American Governorship Transformed.The theme of this book is that American governors, most of whom used to be “ill prepared to govern and less prepared to lead,” have become “vigorous, incisive, and thoroughly trained leaders,” “skilled negotiators and, importantly often crucial coordinators” at both the national and local levels. “Once parochial officers . . . whose responsibilities frequently were slight,” today’s governors “have gained major new powers that have increased their influence in national as well as state councils” (p. 2).

      Sabato describes a number...

    • 10. The Legislature as a Broker of Interests
      (pp. 240-276)

      Kentucky, more than most states, is often described in terms of stereotypes: the Bluegrass State, famous for bourbon, fast horses, burley tobacco, and coal mining. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the Louisville and Nashville Railroad appeared to be the strongest single interest in the state. During the first quarter of this century, Kentucky politics was dominated by a “Bipartisan Combine,” an alliance of political leaders with the major racetrack, liquor, and coal-mining interests in the state; the Jockey Club was reported to be more directly involved in financing political campaigns. During the New Deal period, labor unions,...


    • [Part Five Introduction]
      (pp. 277-278)

      The period of greatest change in American state legislatures is over. The years ahead are likely to bring more gradual changes. The least professional legislatures will become more professional; there will be closer party competition in the less competitive legislatures; and the substantive issues faced by state legislatures will grow more important and more complex. This would be a good time to assess the changes of the last few decades and determine what the consequences of change have been.

      Reform has come gradually to most state legislatures. Often there has been a lag between the introduction of changes in structure...

    • 11. Causes and Consequences of Change
      (pp. 279-292)

      Why did reform come to the Kentucky legislature, and why did it start in the late 1960s? Why did it evolve as it did, and why was the process so gradual? What were the interrelationships among the various factors affecting change? What have been the consequences of change? How have policy outputs differed from those that would have occurred with a strong governor and weak legislature? How well does the system work now?

      Legislative change in Kentucky has been shaped by at least six major forces. The first three are external forces, over which the legislators have no control: the...

  10. References
    (pp. 293-298)
  11. Index
    (pp. 299-304)