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In what ways does having a part-time legislative body improve representation?

A part-time legislative body most often means that legislators serve the government as a civic duty rather as a full-time career. Theoretically, this means they are more likely to be in touch with the real needs of their communities, are less corruptible, and are more able to engage in responsible decision making.

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Part-time legislatures can improve representation by making legislators more in touch with the people they’re elected to represent. If legislators work part-time, so the argument runs, they will have outside jobs which, in most cases, won’t be related to politics. This could keep legislators more firmly grounded in the communities...

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Part-time legislatures can improve representation by making legislators more in touch with the people they’re elected to represent. If legislators work part-time, so the argument runs, they will have outside jobs which, in most cases, won’t be related to politics. This could keep legislators more firmly grounded in the communities they serve, putting them in the same boat as their constituents.

The degree of alienation between the political elite and the voters, between the governors and the governed has never been greater in the United States, and the introduction of part-time legislatures has been suggested as one possible way of bridging the dangerously widening gap between the people and their democratically-elected representatives.

It is argued that having part-time legislatures makes legislators more responsive to the needs and priorities of the local community. As legislators are no longer full-time professional politicians, they are less likely to develop the vices traditionally associated with the political class, such as putting the needs of special interests above those of the voters.

Having paid outside jobs also means that legislators can bring valuable life experience to the work that they do in the legislature. This means, among other things, that they can gain a whole new perspective on policy that they would otherwise lack.

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A part-time legislative body, which is often the case at the level of local or state government, means that the participants serve as a civic duty rather rather as their primary career. In these situations, legislators are paid a stipend that is generally not enough to substitute for a full-time income.

Because of this, part-time legislators most often engage in a full-time job or primary career that puts them in contact with everyday life in the community in a way that is difficult for full-time politicians to emulate. Part-time legislators know what it is like to go to work or run a small business. They are, therefore, more likely to have their fingers on the pulse of the needs of real people.

In states where a part-time legislative body meets for a few months a year, replicating a past where citizen-legislators had to travel long distances to deal with governance in the "off" months from farming, intense immersion in politics takes up only a portion of their lives and therefore is a less central part of their identities. People with less investment in one role are, in theory, less likely to be corruptible, as they are less likely to be filled with fear of losing that single identity.

Primarily, the idea behind electing part-time legislators is that participation in governance as a duty, not a path to enrichment or fame, leads to more sober and responsible decision making.

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A benefit of having a part-time legislature is that politicians would no longer be only that--politicians. Unless legislators were from extremely wealthy families, they would have to play a significant, constant role in whatever their original career is. While many politicians do continue their businesses while serving in Congress, many of them simply do not have time as full-timers to be fully engaged in their previous careers. This hurts the nation in a couple of ways. First a legislature consisting of full-time politicians becomes detached from what it actually means to run a business, teach, serve as an attorney, practice medicine, etc., and therefore, has difficulty creating and passing laws that are practical and beneficial to the majority of Americans. A more local example of this is when teachers leave the classroom to take on consulting jobs or to work at the district or state level. While there are exceptions, those former teachers unfortunately begin to forget what it is like to be in the classroom on a daily basis andcreate policies or purchase programs/equipment that are not practical or beneficial to teachers and students (this pattern repeats itself in many careers outside of government and education).

Secondly, many of our current legislators seem to have forgotten that they are public servants. After only a brief term in Congress, many feel entitled to their positions and neglect the original intention of providing a service for not only their constituents but also for their nation. Perhaps if their political responsibilities were part time, it would be easier for them to view their role more as a volunteer rather than as a bureaucrat.

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The idea behind this is pretty much the idea that "the government is best which governs least."  In today's atmosphere, it is conservatives who would think that a part-time legislature improves representation.  There are two main reasons for this:

  • Perhaps the less important reason is that the legislators would stay closer to the people.  They would be regular people with regular jobs.  This would mean that they would be more in touch with the needs of the public.
  • A more important idea (at least today) is that a full-time legislature would feel obligated to do more things.  Making laws would be their full-time job and so they would come up with too many new and harmful laws.  So having a part-time legislature would prevent big government.
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