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You bet they are. The third in a series of essays on our ever under-appreciated federal form of government.
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Forty-nine of the states have bicameral (two-chamber) legislatures. Nebraska’s legislature is unicameral — and it is also nonpartisan. Nebraska has only 49 state legislators.
The state legislatures vary in numerous other ways including: the length of sessions (Montana’s meets for no more than 90 days every other year); the size of the upper chamber compared to the size of the lower chamber; the length of terms for each chamber; and term limits. The legislatures vary in size in an absolute sense and as a ratio of citizens to legislator. Thus, New Hampshire’s lower house has 400 members. Because it has a small population of 1.3 million, each New Hampshire legislator represents only 3,000 residents. Back in 1980, the current governor of Illinois, Patrick Quinn, led the “The Coalition for Political Honesty” in its successful effort to reduce the size of the Illinois House from 177 to 118 members. (As an aside, the number of U.S. Representatives, 435, is fixed by statute, not by the U.S. Constitution. An argument could be made that 435 is too large to be effective.) Some states (Maine, Connecticut, Massachusetts) employ a committee system that is bicameral — each committee drawing members of both chambers.
Under Article IV, Section 4, the United States Constitution guarantees to each state a “republican form of government.” A “republican” form of government need not be presidential. A state could adopt a parliamentary system, a system in which the chief executive of the state would be chosen by the legislature (as obtained under the first, the 1776 Constitution, of North Carolina) and whose tenure in office would be subject to the legislature’s confidence. There are non-monarchical parliamentary systems, such as Israel’s.
A state could also adopt, consistent with a “republican” form, a system of proportional representation where a candidate obtaining fewer than the majority or plurality of the votes may still win office with candidates who obtain more. Some states have multimember districts (which is not a federal level phenomenon). Before the 1980 changes noted above, Illinois allowed “cumulative voting” for its House elections.
Western states, including California, adopted the initiative and the referendum, Progressive measures in the early part of the 20th century. (Arguably these are contrary to a republican form of government.)
Before then Texas Governor George W. Bush formally began his campaign for president, it was said that the executive under the Texas Constitution was “weak” — as were all those gubernatorial offices established under the constitutions of the readmitted Southern states. There are various criteria used to evaluate the executive as “weak” or “strong.” One criterion is the length of tenure. For the hundred years before 1972, Texas was only two years. Vermont and New Hampshire currently have two-year terms. The states vary in the number of terms allowed. On one end of the spectrum, a handful has no term limits. On the other end of the spectrum, one state, Virginia, limits its governors to one term. Some states which limit the number of consecutive terms, allow a prior occupant to be elected. Thus, in Alabama, Governor Wallace served 1963-67, 1971-79, and 1983-87. (His successor after his first term was his wife, Lurleen.)
Another criterion by which “weak” versus “strong” is evaluated is the number of statewide officers who are elected, separately accountable to the people. Texas, by this criterion, has a “plural executive” — with the lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of agriculture, comptroller of public accounts, and commissioner of the general land office all elected separately.
Another criterion is whether the governor possesses veto power, particularly the line item veto power possessed by 43 governors. Under a 1995 constitutional amendment, North Carolina was the last state to grant its governor the power to veto legislation. The Texas governor is one who does not possess line item veto power. President Reagan often requested it for U.S. presidents.
If a candidate for governor does not obtain a majority, some states hold runoffs. Others, like Arizona, allow the candidate with a plurality to assume office. Others require the legislature to vote for the governor — as occurred in Vermont this year.
Turning to the office of lieutenant governor, we observe that a handful of states do not have such an office. Apparently, they would agree with U.S. Vice President John Nance Garner who once described the vice-presidency as “not worth a bucket of warm p**s.” But this characterization would not fit the duties of the lieutenant governor in many of the states where they have a strong legislative presence. Indeed in Tennessee and West Virginia, the lieutenant governor is elected by the legislature. For decades in the 20th century, the lieutenant governor of Tennessee appointed the leaders of the legislature. In 26 states, the lieutenant governor serves as the president of the upper chamber. In seven states the lieutenant governor appoints senators to membership on committees. Twelve states allow the lieutenant governor to assign bills to particular committees. In California, the lieutenant governor, who may be of a different party, may approve or disapprove legislation while the governor is out of state.
A principal difference between (some) state courts and our federal courts is that, in Massachusetts and a handful of other states, the highest court of the state may render advisory opinions — in contrast to the U.S. Supreme Court which is bound by the U.S. Constitution, Article 3, Section 2, to hear only “cases or controversies.” For example, in a fairly recent development, the Massachusetts Senate requested an opinion on the constitutionality of a law that would grant civil union status but not marriage status. The court replied on February 3, 2004, beginning with the following language:
Under Part II, c. 3, art. 2, of the Constitution of the Commonwealth, as amended by art. 85 of the Amendments, “[e]ach branch of the legislature, as well as the governor or the council, shall have authority to require the opinions of the justices of the supreme judicial court, upon important questions of law, and upon solemn occasions.” “[A] solemn occasion exists ‘when the Governor or either branch of the Legislature, having some action in view, has serious doubts as to their power and authority to take such action, under the Constitution, or under existing statutes.’” Answer of the Justices, 364 Mass. 838, 844 (1973), quoting Answer of the Justices, 148 Mass. 623, 626 (1889). The pending bill involves an important question of law and the Senate has indicated “grave doubt” as to its constitutionality. We therefore address the question…
Another salient difference obtains in Vermont, a state which employs lay judges (more properly, “assistant judges”) according to its 1791 constitution.
There is a current, and recurring, debate over whether state judges should be elected or, as with all federal judges, appointed. Retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor is campaigning for an end in the states to popular elections of judges. (In South Carolina, the legislature elects judges.) At the same time, voters in Iowa exercised their franchise in November 2010 to turn out three of their Supreme Court judges. And we’ve just seen what happened in Wisconsin.
A foreign friend once remarked that the 50 states are all alike. No, they aren’t. When we address the “state of the Union” we ought to refer to the vibrancy of our 50 states.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?
H/T to National Review Online