Bigger is better

A smaller House
By AL DIAMON  |  May 20, 2009

You've seen those obnoxious TV ads for phony products promising "natural male enhancement." Now, here's something that does exactly the opposite.

Introducing Legis-Limp, the wonder drug that gives your state House of Representatives a good excuse for its "failure to perform" by making it "too small" to "satisfy" its constituents. If you want to make it "harder" for legislators to deal with issues, if you want legislative sessions to "last longer," you'll love Legis-Limp.

Warning: Side effects may include a tendency to put quotation marks around "suggestive" comments. In extreme cases, such punctuation has even been known to appear around "non-suggestive" words and "phrases," thereby creating the "impression" that whatever is being discussed is a lot "sexier" than it actually "is."

But enough salaciousness.

For at least one paragraph.

The Maine Legislature is considering a constitutional amendment to shrink the size of the House from 151 "members" (sorry) to 131. At first glance, this looks like a good idea.

At first glance, so did the "special offer" from Enzyte.

The whole smaller-government shtick has a nice ring to it. Fewer legislators. Sweet. Like fewer idiots.

Clearing out the "deadwood" (help, I can't "stop") would save a little money. Twenty fewer legislators would result in some staff cuts, some paperwork reductions and less wear and tear on the carpet in the House chamber. In all, the budget reduction could total about $800,000 per year.

It also would make it appear the Legislature had taken a stand in favor of reducing future spending. As if. Should that $800,000 in savings ever materialize (no sure "thing"), it's going to be spent somewhere else. Bet on it.

A smaller House might reduce the number of stupid bills introduced every session. Unless the remaining representatives pick up the "slack." Which they would. Asked by the Lewiston Sun Journal what effect the "shrinkage" would have on normal legislative business, state Representative John Martin, a supporter of the reduced House, said, "None."

Now, here's the downside.

A smaller House is a less responsive House. Under this amendment, each district would grow from about 8400 people to 10,000. If you think the Legislature is out of touch with ordinary citizens now, just wait until every representative has an extra 1600 disgruntled constituents to put up with. That additional workload would automatically make him or her 19 percent less efficient. It would take him or her 19 percent longer to respond to your letter, e-mail, or phone call, in order to tell you there's less than a 19 percent chance he or she can do anything about whatever your problem is.

Unless, of course, each legislator had more staff. Except then, the downsizing wouldn't save nearly as much money. And all those extra staffers would mean you'd be dealing with an indifferent bureaucrat, instead of a incompetent politician.

Then, there's the problem of "bigger" districts. My House district is already over 50 miles wide and stretches across three counties. I've never met the guy who allegedly represents me, and I'm not even sure he can correctly pronounce the name of my town. A "shriveled-up" House would do nothing to improve his diction. All it would mean is that visiting him to help with his speech therapy would involve an "overnight stay."

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  Topics: Talking Politics , U.S. Government, U.S. State Government, Politics,  More more >
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