by Brandon Sheldon
Reformers began advocating for the initiative and referendum in the 1880’s, for reasons that to them were as plain as day. In 1883 the Oregon Vidette and Antimonopolist, a newspaper for the “producing and industrial classes,” proposed legislation that would “defend a citizen’s rights against injustice by powerful corporations.”[i] The authors believed, with ample reason, that Oregon politics were controlled by implacable monied interests who bribed and otherwise influenced state legislators. This secret and corrupt form of governance made Oregon politics well nigh impervious to the popular will. Direct democracy, reformers believed, would change all that once “the lawmaking power” was in “the hands of the people,” asserted William U’Rhen, its most devoted advocate “we could get anything we wanted.”[ii] [iii] The initiative and referendum system is a clear example of how Oregon’s political culture has shaped the professionalization of the legislature. We as Oregonians don’t want “monied interests” controlling the way our politics should be handled and the initiative and referendum system ensures that all voters are involved in many legislative decisions. The ideas of political actors in other states also dictate how their legislature can respond to issues and how capably they can legislate.
The modernity of Oregon’s government and legislature has always been subject to forces that have largely been out of the hands of the legislators. There are many factors that shape policy in Oregon; the physical size of the state, how wealthy the residents are, what economic activities are being preformed, and the state’s immigration patterns. The legislature must decide how to regulate the different industries and services that will provide for the people while they inhabit the state. When the state and its arm’s choose to govern it must take into account the political attitude and mindset of its people. These attitudes can be traced back to the beginning of the nation and make up the core of American political values today.
Daniel Elazar a Professor of political science at Temple University, and foremost scholar on federalism pioneered the idea of political culture. Political culture itself can be defined as “the particular pattern of orientation to political action in which each political system is embedded,” which is rooted in the cumulative historical experiences of particular groups of people.[i] Elazar classified political culture as Individualistic, Traditionalistic and Moralistic; Each of Elezar’s three subcultures are grounded in contrasting conceptions of how the political arena is to be organized, how power is to be held and exercised, and how justice is to be achieved.[ii] These subcultures may be regarded as contemporary, modified manifestations of the ethnic, socio-religious, and socioeconomic differences which existed among the residents of the three main sections of the original thirteen colonies. The contrasting cultures of the New England, Middle Atlantic, and Southern colonies produced differing systems of government and politics. The ideas and practices of public affairs in these regions were eventually carried by various migrants to different parts of the United States.[iii] The Political Processes in each state are dependent on how its citizens view the role of government and politics. Using these three political cultures as a framework I will show how the political culture has affected the professionalization of the Ohio, Mississippi, and Oregon legislatures. In doing so it will give us a better understanding of why we, as Oregonians, choose the political structures that we do and it will give us a clearer understanding of our own political culture and government.
Oregon is a member of the Moralistic political culture; if we are to understand how Oregon’s legislature has professionalized we must first understand the political values this political culture holds. The Moralistic political culture emerged out of the puritan settlements of New England, with their emphasis on a commonwealth view of government and society. Politics, in the Moralistic culture, is an important activity that should benefit the public good and be above private interests. Every citizen has a duty to participate without economic gain in the governance of the state. Nonpartisan “amateur” politics is fostered as a means of increasing citizen participation and ensuring a more principled public debate. Government agencies should be organized to promote the efficient and effective delivery of public services and should be staffed with competent, politically neutral professional administrators[iv]. The ideas that were fostered by the first Oregonians have dictated the growth of professionalism within the Oregon legislature. The Ohio and Mississippi legislatures were also affected by the thoughts of their early emigrants.
In Ohio they have an individualistic political culture. Citizens tend to view the political arena much like a marketplace, where “professional” Politicians pursue profitable careers just as one would pursue a career in business. Individual political figures and Political “corporations” (Political Parties) compete to provide services demanded by various groups of citizens. In return, political entrepreneurs receive various forms of compensation-for example, patronage and power. Citizens are perceived as clients who can be lured with public service products of reasonable quality and cost. Political rhetoric usually downplays issues and stresses the pragmatic policies “advertised” by the competing corporations. Government’s principle purpose is to foster economic growth, primarily through the encouragement and manipulation of the marketplace. Bureaucracy is seen as a two-edged sword- as an unnecessary limit on political favors and as an organization necessary for delivering quality public products[v]
In Mississippi they have a Traditionalistic political culture; this culture emerged in the southern colonies, where efforts were made to recreate English manorial society, by relying first on indentured labor and later on slaves. Because it derives from an agrarian, pre-commercial mentality, the traditionalistic political culture is characterized by hierarchical conception of civilization, with those at the top of the socioeconomic ladder maintaining a dominant role in public affairs. Real power is restricted to small, self perpetuating elite drawn from the upper class families. Political competition among the elites is characterized by personality contests and factional feuds that are constrained by a network of interpersonal relationships. The role of government is to defend the status quo and to maintain traditional values. The mass of citizens (who are not slaves) are expected to defer the decisions of the elites and to support the existing social structure. Because government has very few custodial responsibilities beyond ensuring a stable social order, large and costly government agencies are viewed as unnecessary and wasteful.[vi]
Professionalism in state legislatures also follows a recognizable pattern that can be seen within the legislature as it occurs. There are different ways of measuring a legislature’s professionalism. One set of indicia well known to political scientists is the five S’s: space, sessions, structure, staffing, and salaries[vii]. Each of these areas will be examined against the political culture of the state to give a balanced view of each legislature as a whole. The legislative session and special sessions give us insight into how we can classify Oregon on a professionalism scale.
The types of sessions and the session length are a reflection of the political culture of each state. The Oregon legislature meets often enough to accomplish the tasks that it needs to and the frequency of legislative sessions allows for the members to adequately accomplish their goals. The Oregon legislature meets annually on the first Monday in February; the Oregon constitution also establishes a maximum of 160 calendar days for an odd-year regular session and each regular session may be extended in five-day increments by the affirmative vote of two-thirds of the members of each house. In the case of special sessions; the Oregon legislature is able to call for a legislative session on its own, this is usually done by a petitioning member. The Oregon legislature is allowed to determine the subject of the special session, and this is also done by a petitioning member as well. For the special session to begin the legislature must have a majority from each chamber, this becomes more important, because there isn’t any limit on the length of a special session. This means that those petitioning for a special session must have a clear goal that will be accomplished during the session itself. The political culture bleeds through in these session requirements. A moralistic political culture sees its legislature as an “amateur” body and this is why Oregon places a 160 day and 35 day restriction on the legislative sessions. If there were no restriction on the length of the legislative session, it would be more in line with a full time legislature and this is not what the people of Oregon want. These requirements better serve the idea of increased citizen participation that will increase public debate, without having laws and regulations that stifle creativity and overburden an individual’s or business’s ability to do what they want.
The Ohio legislature’s sessions reflect the individualistic political culture and its tendency to be more professional. The Ohio legislature meets biennially or put another way, a period of two years. The legislature convenes on the first Monday in January and the legislature is not restricted by a limitation on the session length. In regards to a special session the legislature can only call for a special session if the party leaders of both houses agree that it is necessary. The Ohio legislature is also allowed to decide the subject of their special sessions. The greatest difference here is that the party leadership decides whether or not there will be a special session held. This small change in the rules show that Ohio is not like Oregon and is much less concerned with cultivating “principled public debate,” because it denies the individual members the ultimate say over a legislative session. The individual members concerns are assumed to be voiced by the leadership which is a very unilateral decision allowed by the political culture of Ohio. The other big difference is the fact that the legislative session doesn’t have a limit. In Oregon we feel that our legislators are “amateurs” and thus do not give them an unlimited amount of days to legislate. We want “citizen participation” to be the primary driver of our legislation; if we allowed the days to be unlimited we would begin to nurture an environment where professionalism could grow. The people of Ohio view politics as a place for individual betterment and the length of their session corresponds to that idea.
Mississippi’s political culture is traditionalistic; it is the exact opposite of Oregon and does not wish to “ensure principled public debate”. Politics in Mississippi is also not about the individual. Mississippi’s political culture does not seek to enrich those who go into government because it does not want to incentivize social change. The Mississippi legislature meets in January on the first Tuesday of the month. The legislature is restricted to 90 calendar days for a normal legislative session, but when a governor takes power the legislature gets to meet for 125 calendar days. The legislature is not allowed to call a special session at all in contrast to Ohio and Oregon who can both have unlimited special sessions[viii].We can see that the political culture of Mississippi is about upholding a hierarchical structure, because it gives the legislature more days for legislation when the Governor has taken power, because Mississippi’s political culture is also about upholding a hierarchy and not about creating avenues for quality public goods the legislature cannot address pressing public concerns through the use of a special session. It is easier to maintain traditional values if you have less days to craft meaningful legislation. The lack of days to legislate gives Mississippi the least professional orientation of every legislature examined here. Mississippi gives its legislators no reason to believe that legislating could be there full time job. The salary and other benefits the legislators receive is also the next greatest indicator of professionalism and it is closely connected to the political culture of each state.
The salary that is paid to an Oregon legislator is enough to attract people who want to serve the people and their interests, but not the legislators’ interests. Therefore many legislators in the legislature have other jobs. In the Oregon legislature a legislator is paid 22,596 dollars a year, they receive a mileage rate of 56 cents per mile, and a per diem of 129 dollars a day. The legislator is also compensated outside of his salary so that he can effectively legislate during the session. A Legislator is allowed 36,367 dollars a year for session staffing. Legislators are also paid 2,692.80 for supplies and during the interim they receive 68,538 a biennium to spend as they would like. In Oregon we value “amateur politics” and the salary that a legislator is paid corresponds to that level of professionalism and our moralistic political culture. A person in Oregon will not take up their time being a legislator because of the money. The amount of pay brings in only those people who wish to contribute to the democratic process. We also give our legislators an adequate amount of personal staff so that they can efficiently and effectively deliver public services. The legislators are likely to have other jobs and are not as likely to consider being a legislator as their primary occupation.
In Ohio the salary that is paid to a legislator is enough to help them adequately govern. It also is high enough to attract anyone who may find the job appealing and the salary makes the Ohio legislator less likely to have another job while in the legislature. An Ohio legislator is paid a salary of 60,583.70 and a more comprehensive mileage rate of 52 cents a mile along with at least one round trip if they live outside certain county limits. The Ohio legislature does not provide a per diem for their members and this can be attributed to the salary that legislators are paid for the biennium. Also, any supplies or staff for a legislator’s district office must be supplied by the legislators themselves since they are not paid an allowance for supplies and district staff. The idea of a frontloaded salary where the legislator can use his discretion in appropriating his own funds shows us how legislators are more likely to personally benefit from the salaries that they receive. The large salaries show us that the legislature will have more professional characteristics, but also that the legislators have more constituents and more issues to handle as each session progresses. Oregonians would rather give our legislators money for staff and supplies to effectively govern. Our belief in “amateur” Politicians is shown because we are not willing to give a legislator as much discretion when it comes to deciding their needs for successfully governing-the law chooses it for them.
The Mississippi legislator is afforded a miniscule amount compared to both the legislators in Oregon and Ohio. The pay and benefits are not able to attract those who would be best suited for the job, but the benefits can support those who are already in power and those who have great wealth. The Mississippi legislator is paid a salary of just 10,000 dollars. This hinders the ability of the average citizen to become a legislator. Mississippi also compensates its members with a 123 dollar per day per diem and the legislature sets its own mileage rate. Another disadvantage for Mississippi legislators is that they do not receive any compensation for staff or supplies during the session itself. If the legislators are to staff their offices they must provide for it on their own. These legislative conditions only allow for the elite to survive and thrive. The Mississippi legislature is not a professional body; it is a conduit for the powerful to pass laws that are favorable to themselves. In Ohio these types of conditions could not survive because of the population density and the need for substantive legislation. Both Mississippi and Oregon are comparable because they are both rural states. It is Oregon’s emphasis on “citizen participation” that keeps our legislature incompatible with Mississippi’s. We want a government that is effective and passes constructive legislation that helps those who need it. The power structure is not important to us because, if we did decide to emphasis it, our legislation would not be able to fix the issues that are of the most importance to our state. We don’t want legislators who make policies to benefit themselves. We also recognize that a knowledgeable legislator can pass more substantive laws.
The political culture of Oregon puts an emphasis on supporting legislators and the legislature with competent personal and professional staff. In Oregon legislators in both the Senate and the House are allowed an individual limit of two paid personal staff members year round. The legislators of both the House and Senate also have shared staff that can be utilized when the need arises. The shared staff of the Oregon legislature also serves year round and is a bipartisan staff. The greatest difference in staffing between the House and Senate arises only when district staff is examined. Senate members are allowed to have a paid staffer year round in their district office while house members are only allocated pay for a staff member in their district offices during the interim. The Oregon legislature also provides professional and clerical assistance to all of the House and Senate committees[ix]. The political culture of Oregon values providing legislators with an abundance of professional support rather than an abundance of salary. Oregon’s legislature can be seen as a “citizen’s legislature” because our legislators are compensated with low legislative salaries, but the Oregon legislature is professional in its ability to perform all of its functions effectively and while doing so it provides legislators with the knowledge to make informed decisions, because of the legislatures willingness to provide professional staff. Our political culture provides a platform for this idea because principled public debate cannot occur without knowledgeable legislators who can effectively meet their daily tasks. In the Ohio legislature the amount of support a legislator has is at their own discretion.
The professionalized legislature of Ohio provides the legislators with the necessary professional and personal staff, but the political culture assumes that the legislator can meet any of their other staffing needs without outside help. Each legislator in the Senate is provided with two personal staff members during the session some of the leaders in the Senate have more, because of their leadership positions within the Senate. House members are provided with at least one personal staff member but some offices have more; this is due to the fact that many legislators can pay for more personal staff because of the high legislative pay. When a legislator feels he may need more staff he can provide for it on his own. District staff is also paid for directly from the legislators own pocket. The legislature does not provide district staff and leaves it to the discretion of the legislator. The committees in the Ohio legislature are also fully staffed with competent professional and clerical staffs that can help members produce affective legislation[x]. The political culture of Ohio accepts that legislators seek personal gain from their legislative positions; however if the legislators wish to be more productive and try to gain more pay, prestige, and power the people and the legislature limit the amount of personal staff that will help a legislator gain influence. If you compare the Ohio and Oregon legislatures a lack of personal staff in Ohio may lead some Ohio legislators to be less informed than their Oregon peers, but Ohio legislators should be able to counter any staff issues with their high legislative salaries. Ohio’s political culture is individualistic and emphasizes the individual legislator who can solve his or her own problems.
Mississippi’s political culture doesn’t offer the legislature a basis for providing legislators with competent personal and professional staff. Mississippi legislators in the House and the Senate are neither provided with personal staff nor are they provided with district staff. The 10,000 dollars that Mississippi legislators receive could hardly give them the discretion to higher personal staff at their own expense. Senate and House members must rely on the shared staff that is there year round to help them accomplish their policy prerogatives and goals. Mississippi’s committees also have small staffs and the committees are only provided with clerical and not professional staff[xi]. The legislators in Mississippi lack important staff members who can help them do their jobs effectively. A lack of staff also makes it more difficult for the legislator to be knowledgeable about the legislation and the effects it might have on the state. Mississippi’s political culture does not want to establish a bureaucracy that is wasteful and therefore it does away with personal and professional staff seeing it as unnecessary. The lack of personal and professional staff in Mississippi is also impacted by the length of the session. The political culture encourages little social change, normally in such a short window of time a legislator would become unburdened by the help given to him by the personal and professional staff aiding him, because the political culture reflects the status quo, there are few reasons to equip a legislator to effectively legislate in ninety days. Mississippi’s political culture also makes it difficult for their legislators to be independent of another career; this makes the Mississippi legislature less professional.
Mississippi’s political culture reflects the value that their legislators are supposed to work during the legislative session. The legislators are the elite of their community and they are supposed to have the ability to work another job. Low legislative salaries make outside careers especially desirable. Legislative salaries lag behind median family income in Mississippi. Moreover, typical legislative candidates have attributes (Educational, racial, gender, and age) that predict earnings significantly higher than the median family income[xii]. Normally being a part of the elite, and holding another job, would make others question whether or not you can be impartial during your time as a legislator, but because the Mississippi legislative session is relatively short it lessens a legislator’s ability to be overly impartial to their own company or employer. Impartiality may not be as big of a concern, because Mississippi’s political culture deemphasizes wastefulness and politicians are wary of creating it. The Mississippi legislature is the least professional because the political culture it resides in not only creates short session lengths, but limits the amount of time a legislator has to govern by making them hold a second profession. Constraining the amount of time for legislation does slow down the legislative process. Legislators pass fewer laws and less is changed, just like the people within the political culture want. In the political culture of Ohio politics is viewed as a business and this greatly affects whether or not legislators have to work another job during their service.
Ohio is the only legislature examined in this paper where the members are truly independent and don’t have to work other jobs. In Ohio, legislators are not placed in a position where they must subsist off their pay check. Legislators in Ohio can devote the greatest amount of their time to legislative matters and it is hoped that legislators will legislate effectively. The Ohio legislator spends all of his time on legislative matters; so the hope within the political culture is that there won’t be any of the negative side effects that could be seen where a legislator must hold another job. The legislators are expected to govern, but the underlying mindset that the people are a client is unique, because people view themselves as clients they expect services, and legislators are given more pay and time to provide those services. The patronage that politicians have come to expect as well leads to an interesting dynamic with both politicians and the people trying to get as much out of the political arena as they can. In Oregon the people within the political culture expect legislators to come up with good policy, but to create good policy out of self-satisfaction, while earning income from another source.
The salary paid to an Oregon legislator is not enough to keep him or her independent, and many legislators have other jobs. The long legislative session and low pay cause many legislators to find other ways of making money. Republicans are significantly more likely to hold outside careers than are Democrats overall and in high salary legislatures in particular. Women are far less likely to hold outside careers regardless of compensation… legislators with post graduate degrees are significantly more likely to have outside careers[xiii]. In comparison to Ohio and Mississippi; Oregon’s Political culture leaves its members with an opportunity to participate in the democratic process, but there is certainly a price to be paid for most members. Representative Dallas heard, a republican, who considers himself both a business owner and a legislator, cautioned that it is difficult to be a freshman legislator and run a business without losing time for your family and friends. He describes legislative pay as being a hardship, since most rural representatives have a great deal of travel to do just to get to the capitol. As a full time legislator he described most of his week as being over 40 hours, and working a total of six days per week, spending Friday evening and Saturday on his business, with every other Sunday off. He also was concerned that the pay forces a legislator to focus on how to make a living, and that for some this would make it more difficult to focus on policy and pressing issues[xiv].
Membership occupational diversity is also a clear indicator of legislative professionalism, because the ideas of those who live within the state, of all occupations, should be represented in the legislature. Political culture in Oregon affects legislators pay; which affects the membership diversity, and how representative the legislature can be. The Oregon legislature is representative of Police Officers, Teachers, Businessmen, Lawyers, Doctors and other occupations; in this regard Oregon would seem to be a very representative body to people of all occupations. The one area where this is skewed however is that many Representatives and Senators representing the people are retired or they are very young legislators. When asked about legislators pay in Oregon, Representative Joe Gallegos said that higher pay would be necessary to “broaden the pool” of those who would be willing to work in the legislature[xv]. Senator Chuck Riley described how he had chosen to retire after losing his first bid for the Oregon house so he could have a better chance of winning the second time around-which he did[xvi]. It is clear that Oregon’s political culture wants to bring in legislators who want to serve for the benefit of others. Oregonian’s might, by defaulting to a lower pay scale, be missing those individuals who are the best qualified to govern effectively. These select individuals find the loss of opportunities for business or medical practice too great and opt not to join the legislature. The effects of our Moralistic Political culture on the pay legislators receive; affects whether or not they have another job during the legislative session. While Oregon faces problems with finding the right age balance, the Mississippi legislature is unrepresentative in regards to the black population within the state.
Mississippi’s legislature has begun to professionalize in its own way. During the legislature’s history the occupations that legislators held had not varied significantly mostly consisting of lawyers and farmers; however thanks to a burgeoning business class Mississippi’s legislature is beginning to diversify with occupations like realtor, accountant, or physician. The problem that Mississippi has had is electing individuals who can represent other black Mississippians in the legislature. Mississippi’s legislature has a senate composed of 52 members and its house is made up of 122 legislators. For a body that contains this many members, it is quite shocking that in 1987 the legislature contained just 16 black members in its house and 4 black members in its senate[xvii]. The Mississippi legislature may be unrepresentative for its black members, but if we look at its political culture we can find some reasons that explain this characteristic. Historically, only those with wealth and power have been able to gain a seat in the legislature and these individuals have been white. Mississippi’s less professional organization helps maintain these old power structures and a lack of pay and support staff brings in only the wealthiest of Mississippi’s black population who can afford to serve and pay for personal staff . In Ohio the legislature is equipped to handle legislators of any profession and it is representative of nearly all those who live in the state.
In 1988, Ohio House members were in business as their second occupation–as businessmen, insurance or real estate agents, accountants, or stock brokers. In contrast, fewer than a third of Ohio Senators (31 percent) were in business. Other Ohio legislators are educators or were in “helping” professions or are farmers or workers or labor union officials[xviii]. The individualistic political culture of Ohio politics has succeeded in providing a place for all different types of legislators to serve in the legislature. The legislative pay in Ohio allows for members to higher competent personal staff to help with their legislator duties. The Ohio legislature has provided plenty of space for legislators and for other support agencies like the legislative service commission. The support that Ohio provides to its legislators, in all forms, has made it possible for those who make less than the median income to still be knowledgeable and effective legislators in both houses. In Oregon legislative salaries don’t allow for all people to serve regardless of their primary occupation; if the Oregon legislature raised legislative pay we may see a more representative body of legislators.
Political culture will continue to affect the professionalization of the Oregon legislature and the legislatures of the U.S in the future. As time moves forward our moralistic political culture will still impact the social policy that controls future technologies and people’s basic fundamental rights. Oregonians will seek a government that is built upon openness, civic participation, and legislators who wish to participate in the betterment of their communities with little personal benefit. Oregonians beliefs in informed legislators will lead them to give legislators the staff and services necessary to do their jobs effectively, while Ohioans will give its legislators more discretion in making staff decisions but providing fewer services overall, and Mississippians will continue to reinforce a hierarchical system. It is impossible to know what U’Rhen would think of the legislature today, but the continued use of the initiative and referendum system would be applauded. He would most likely find legislative salaries to be effective since legislators gain very little from public service. He would also most likely approve of the session limitations and the use of many different staff members that help legislators and keep “monied interests” from controlling them. Oregonians and their views on the legislature will always dominate how the legislature professionalizes. Political Culture and its ideological values may regionally shift, but the core tenants are the ideas that have always consumed American political thought.
[i] Daniel J. Elazar, American Federalism: A View from the States, 3rd ed. (New York: Harper and Row, 1984), 112.
[ii] Dale Krane, Stephen D. Shaffer, Mississippi Government and Politics, (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1992), 7.
[iii] John Kincaid, “Introduction,” in political culture, public policy and the American states, ed. John Kincaid (Philadelphia: Institute for the Study of human Issues, 1982), 9
[iv] Daniel J. Elazar, American Federalism: A View from the States, 3rd ed. (New York: Harper and Row, 1984), 112-116.
[vii] David M. Gold, Democracy in Session, (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2009), xviii.
[viii] The Council of State Governments, State Data, (Lexington Kentucky, council of State governments, book of the states, 2014).
[xii]H.W. Jerome Maddox, “Opportunity Costs and Outside Careers in U.S State Legislatures,” Legislative Studies Quarterly 29 (January 2011): 519.
[xiii] Maddox , 530.
[xiv] Dallas Heard, Interview with author, April 20th, 2015.
[xv] Joe Gallegos, Interview with Author, April 20th, 2015.
[xvi] Chuck Riley, Interview with Author, April 13th, 2015.
[xvii] Krane, Shaffer, 114.
[xviii] Alexander P. Lambis, OHIO POLITICS, (Kent: The Kent State University Press, 1994), 239.
[i] Robert D. Johnston, The Radical Middle Class: Populist Democracy and the Question of Capitalism in Progressive Era Portland, Oregon, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003), 121.
[ii] Esther G. Weinstein, “William Simon U’Ren: A study of persistence in political reform” (Ph.D. diss., Syracuse University, 1967), 12.
[iii] David Peterson Del Mar, Oregon’s Promise: An Interpretive History, (Corvallis: Oregon State University Press, 2003), 128.