Monday, March 11, 2013

Lucky 7 Legislature

Recently, Ryan Calvo and Gerry Champion have been making the rounds in the media to tout their solution to all of Guam's problems: a decrease in the number of Senators representing the people in the Guam Legislature from 15 to 7.

Legislative Responsiveness

Let's do this by the numbers, to start with.  How many people does each Senator actually represent?  According to the 2010 Census, there were 159,358 people on Guam in 2010.  The population is pretty similar today, so on average each Senator would be taken to represent 10,624 people.  If we had a Lucky 7 Legislature, each would represent 22,765 people.  Okay, that does not mean too much, but if you think about it, when a person on Guam has a problem which can only be managed through the legislative process, as occasionally happens, each Senator is an opportunity to have your concerns addressed.  On a very basic level, decreasing the number of Senators will decrease the odds that challenges that face constituents will be responded to through legislation.

Consider the following example: a constituent named Albert has an issue that can only be addressed through the passage of a law by the Legislature.  Let us assume that each Senator equally supports the measure and has an equal probability that they would introduce a bill addressing it, which we shall take as 10% (after all, Senators may have many other issues that they feel more strongly about). This situation, represented in a graph below, would imply that the chance of the bill introduced would be roughly 80% in a Legislature composed of 15 Senators, but only 50% in a Lucky 7 Legislature.  This means that, for Albert, it is 37.5% less likely that a Lucky 7 Legislature would introduce a bill that would resolve his issue.  The numbers are arbitrary, but the point remains that fewer Senators implies less opportunities for constituents to have urgent needs addressed through legislation.

Legislative Oversight

Part of the legislative process, in addition to making law, is to maintain oversight over the operation of government.  There are two basic ways to look at oversight: either it is to hold the Executive Branch accountable for actions that it takes on behalf of the people or it is to help the Executive Branch to maintain order and good administrative processes in the execution of public policy.  It is not important to pass judgement on one or the other, as it seems that both may serve a purpose, but it seems unlikely that the committees of the legislature could play an effective role by either model of legislative oversight if there were only, for instance, four or five committees.  This seems almost self-evident from the number of public agencies and boards in the government of Guam.  On the other side of the same coin, how comfortable should the community feel if a handful of Senators or less have control of all the committees of the legislature?  Even eight legislative committees may seem unwieldy by comparison.

Another somewhat connected idea is when Mr. Champion asks us to think of Guam as a city, but this ignores something very crucial: a stateside town has several layers of government. Much of what is accomplished by Guam's government would be shared among the layers, but we have pretty much just the all-island layer because the schools, clinics, hospital, police department, fire department, buses, etc., are all run on an island-wide basis.  In the 'states, there are elected officials for the town, county and state levels of government, each of which have their own area of oversight.  The number of legislators we have on Guam might not seem to be so many on that basis.

Part-Time Legislature

I am surprised to say that I (partly, no pun intended) agree with Dave Davis in his column today.  He also thinks that a Lucky 7 Legislature is a bad idea.  Another bad idea: the Part-Time Legislature, which Dave Davis just argued for today.    This is not an innovative solution or much of a solution, at all.  There are some who seem like they may be disingenuous about their reasons for wanting a part-time legislature, but I believe that Dave Davis is honest about what he thinks and why.  I largely agree with the argument that those in Singapore advance for paying their legislators a full-time salary (although they pay theirs like executives and I don't think we need that).  To quote myself:

"First, thinking about how much time/money/energy must be invested in a run for the legislature, it seems to me that if our Senators are not "employed" by the legislature (and get a reasonable salary), it's a considerable sacrifice for a middle income individual to make and may make the legislature the exclusive province of the wealthy. Second, without a good salary there may be more of a temptation to cut deals for Senators to benefit themselves."

Mr. Gerry Champion said that he wants people to discuss this issue, even oppose it. This is my contribution, so I extend him an advance "You're welcome."  Just about the last thing that the people of Guam need is to gamble on a Lucky 7 Legislature.

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