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Tuesday, February 3, 2009

HB 1187: Fire 30 Legislators?

How many legislators does it take to screw in a light bulb?

Speaking of smaller government, Representative Brock Greenfield (R-6/Clark) has filed House Bill 1187, which declares the Legislature's intent to downsize itself by almost a third, to a 25-member Senate and 50-member House.

Considering that legislators (including good Republican Reps. Rave and Noem) declined Monday to cut their own pay by 5%, the chances that they'll put 30 of themselves out of their part-time jobs seem pretty slim.

Even if HB 1187 might save money, do we really want to reduce the number of voices being heard in Pierre? 30 fewer representatives in the Capitol could represent a significant dilution of the popular voice. Some reps would end up having to cover a lot of territory to reach all of their constituents. Our District 8, for instance, already spans four counties along a hundred miles of Highway 34. The Internet is nice for keeping in touch, but it still doesn't replace a good face-to-face crackerbarrel.

30 fewer legislators saves $180K in legislator salaries and some administrative expenses. But that also means a third more constituent complaints and requests and other work that each legislator has to handle. It would mean fewer kids who get to serve as pages and witness legislative work firsthand. It would mean fewer legislators that the governor has to strong-arm to get his way.

If all this bill does is save money, that's not good enough. I'll need to hear an argument that a smaller legislature is good for democracy before I can support it.


  1. Knowing Senator/ Representative Greenfield, I think that the point here is to save money, rather than dilute the voice of the people.

  2. How about tieing in school districts with the number of legislators? So if they cut a school, then the legislature also has to cut one less member.

  3. Smaller government is always a good thing. That would be 30 less legislators introducing bills.

    We need to shorten the sessions by half. Same amount of work done in a shorter time frame. That would weed out the frivolous and let them concentrate on what is important.

  4. Yes, yes, yes. Cutting the legislature by a third, or more can only be a good thing. It will even be better if we make it unicameral and non-partisan.

    Nebraska's unicameral has 49, non-partisan members. They actually accomplish things representing more than twice SD's population.

  5. Having lived in a large population state where the ratio of constituents to legislators is greater than in South Dakota, folks, I gotta tell you, having diluted representation is not the paradise that is being portrayed here. The real answer is having engaged citizens who get involved in their communities and work with their neighbors to get good political leaders elected.

  6. I've also lived in other states with larger populations than SD. The ratio to constituents to representatives is irrelevant in those state legislatures since all have virtually equal access to local representatives (and the pay-to-play threshold is low).

    Where the ratio of constituents to representatives is relevant is with the US Congress - small states have a decided advantage. But note how the 535 member congress achieves little and is held in very low esteem.

  7. Kelly@1104: yep, Nebraskans have been rioting yearly for 150 years over the lack of access they have to their 49 non-partisan legislators. Shhh . . . one can hear the riot from here. . .

  8. I'm with Kelly. Democratic participation and civic engagement is worth some money. More seats mean more people who have the chance to serve, to participate in campaigns, and to come up with good ideas. (It also means more people to come up with bad ideas... but I'll take the bad with the good on this one.)

  9. Considering that at least one bill has finally been proposed to increase the sales tax (unless I've been hallucinating), perhaps the best solution for us, the people of the state of South Dakota, is to fire the whole lot of our legislators in the next election and hire a brand new bunch.


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