Good Government – How Do We Get It?

Is there such thing as “good government”? It sounds more like a riddle – right up there with education funding and welfare spending, an endless cycle of spinning wheels. To unravel our riddle, let’s take a look at some of the parts of government, starting at the state level.

In the legislative branch, which legislatures are better? Those that are full-time or those ones are part-time, meaning they have citizen-legislators? With each state legislature operating differently, it's difficult to paint this issue of “goodness” in black and white.

Being a legislator doesn't just mean attending legislative sessions and voting on proposed laws. State legislators also spend large amounts of time assisting constituents, studying state issues during the interim and campaigning for election. These activities go on throughout the year. Any assessment of the time requirements of the job should include all of these elements of legislative life.

Many will argue that full-time legislators, in order to justify their existence, produce more legislation covering more areas and appropriating more money than ever before.  As a full-time legislator, there is a tendency for government to grow larger and more expansive in its quest to justify its existence.

First, these same people will further point out that a relationship between the growth of government and a full-time legislature has caused a rise in taxes at the federal, state and local levels -- from 10 percent in the early 1900s to almost 45 percent today. Plus, they will add that a full-time legislature greatly diminishes the expertise that the citizen-legislators can bring to the legislative chambers. The full-time legislator, in contrast to those who work in the trades and professions and are part time, have little idea of what impact programs being created will have on those they hope to benefit or regulate.

Second, arguments are made that term limits are the answer to good government. As a business person, would you shut down and fire everyone in your company every eight years because you want a fresh opinion? My guess is, no. Why? Because you will have to retrain workers and you would lose the institutional knowledge. So then, why does it make sense in government? You can still fire the people not doing their jobs; just vote them out of office.

Whether we look at a full-time or a part-time legislature or argue term limits, one thing stands clear: Voting makes the difference. Some will argue that voting is really not fair and is treated more like a privilege rather than a right which is a discussion for another time.

The real issue is consistent change and the ability to be heard is still in the power of voting. If you exercise your right to vote, you can make a difference. And that is good government.