I’ve been on the road around the state quite a bit recently, and I keep bumping into former state legislators. With few exceptions, the former legislators talk about how much more they know now than when they were in – and say they could do better if they could go back.
So why not let them?
I’m not suggesting something so logical or reasonable – and politically unrealistic by the unreal standards of California politics – as eliminating term limits. But that doesn’t mean that former lawmakers couldn’t return and help the state legislature. Heck, many former legislators still do quasi-legislative work as lobbyists and consultants.
So why not constitute former legislators as a second legislature?
Call it the Retired Legislators’ Legislature.
It couldn’t overrule the first legislature – but it could be a useful supplement, and fulfill the goals of some reformers, in four ways.
1. More legislators.
California has the smallest legislature in the country, which is to say, its members represent three times more people than any state lawmakers in the country. The state should have a bigger legislature, but that’s considered a political no-go, because the people don’t want to create more politicians.
Using retired politicians would be away around this. More representation for the public, more people to do the work – but no minting of new politicians.
2. More expertise
Even those who support term limits acknowledge that today’s state lawmakers lack knowledge and experience, both on the particulars of policy and of lawmaking. A legislature of former lawmakers would address that deficit.
3. Protected from politics.
Members of the retired legislators’ legislature wouldn’t have to worry about re-election or fundraising – because they wouldn’t have to stand for election. Any former lawmaker who wanted in could be in. They’d be free to do what they thought was right. The only requirement of the job would be that they not hold any other job – so that they could devote themselves to being as productive as possible in the retired legislators’ legislature.
In a way, a retired legislators’ legislature would be a test of reformers’ claims that elections, politics and fundraising are the reasons why the legislature doesn’t work. If the retired legislators’ legislature had difficult reaching compromise, or proved to be dysfunctional, that would be an important lesson for reformers, and the real legislature.
4. More time and people to do all the things that the legislature doesn’t have time for.
The real legislature doesn’t have all that much time for detailed hearings, executive oversight and long-term planning. The retired legislators’ legislature could take on all these tasks. The retired lawmakers could propose and vote on legislation and constitutional amendments, like the real legislature – but the votes would only be advisory.
If the retired legislators’ legislature did a strong job, their work could win notice.
And if not, you’d probably hear a lot of jokes in Sacramento about the Viagra Control Group.