Frankly, I'd think a full-time legislature might make lawmakers more reluctant to keep their jobs. It's really not that great of a gig. You spend months away from your career and your family and for what? Does anybody recognize you in the street? Does anybody really care that you represent Wausau in the state assembly?
But apparently the full-time legislature has convinced its members that they should act like their counterparts in D.C. The Journal-Sentinel ed board had a very comprehensive piece on the matter today:
Veterans tell us that this shift - from viewing seats as part-time public service - occurred sometime in the 1970s or '80s. The result is that elections represent not so much the potential for losing the opportunity for public service but loss of livelihood.
What livelihood? A 2010 college grad might be happy with the pay, but $40,000 should not impress the typical middle-aged businessman or lawyer who we call our representatives. But the Sentinel argues that it's not so much the campaigning that is worrisome, but who controls the campaigning:
A part-time Legislature too radical for you? (We have some doubts of our own). Then change how legislative leadership operates. These top posts are currently held by Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker (D-Wausau), Senate Republican Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau), Assembly Speaker Mike Sheridan (D-Janesville) and Assembly Minority Leader Jeff Fitzgerald (R-Horicon).
Remember the shenanigans the Assembly Democrats pulled last summer? After boasting their ban on campaign contributions during the budget process, the Assembly Democratic Campaign Committee planned a big fundraiser at a golf course right as the budget was being written. The Journal-Sentinel's analysis makes perfect sense. What better way to ensure control of the budget process and keep the rank-and-file in line than to streamline the special interest money to one committee?
I particularly liked the last point the ed board made:
Failing that, we have one last-ditch suggestion: bowling leagues.
Back in the day, we're told, there was more comity between legislators and between staffers. Now, there is little or no interaction beyond the partisan conflict that occurs on legislative floors or in committee. Good-faith negotiation is more apt to occur if that person across the aisle is viewed as someone other than evil personified.
For the record, Rep. Kelda Helen Roys (D-Madison) told me she gets along very well with Rep. Jeff Stone (R-Greendale). However, when I saw Joe Wineke, former Democratic State Senator and former chair of the Dem Party, approach Sen. Alan Lasee, a Republican veteran from Door County, to backslap and share a few inside jokes, I couldn't help but think their interaction was the remnant of another era of state politics.