Thursday, January 26, 2006

For full time public servants (and public financing)

As much as I hate to praise any Republican, Dan Swecker's HB 6659 is worthy of half-praise. It helps solve a problem that is inherent with our legislature: only people who can afford to serve ever actually do.

The Washington leg is known as a hybrid: representatives and senators are paid salaries, instead of being totally unpaid or just paid a stipend, but they aren't considered full time. Not only do you need a second job to serve, but you need a second job that allows you to take off for a few months every year, and a few days every so often for committee work.

There is no wonder why there are more than a few legislators who already work "political jobs" (see Swecker's district mate Richard Debolt). A full time legislature will allow more "regular folks" (for lack of a better term) to serve.

That said, full-time legislators is only half the battle. The other half would be full public funding of legislative elections, as in Maine:

In two states, Arizona and Maine, campaign finance reform is opening the election process to newcomers and helping to break the lock wealthy special interests have on the legislative process. In both states, candidates for state offices win public financing on condition that they raise and spend no private money (including their own) and abide by stringent spending limits. To qualify, these “Clean Elections” candidates have to raise a large number of $5 contributions from voters in their district (the opposite of the system in most states, where candidates raise a small number of large contributions from a tiny, wealthy elite). Candidates who choose to run clean get public funds, and, if they are outspent by a privately financed opponent, additional matching funds are available.

In 2000, both states had maiden runs of Clean Elections, with promising results. A third of Maine’s legislators were elected running “clean,” as were about one-fifth of Arizona’s legislators.

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