Pennsylvania Legislature Size Not The Problem

By H. John StahlPennsylvania Legislature Size Not The Problem

As a former House member, it was the 1968 revisions to the PA Constitution that causes most of the problem. Governor Scranton forced the legislature to adopt a new constitution changing, among many things, the legislature from part time to full time with full time salaries. He said that they could get the best and brightest by offering full time work with full time executive pay.

That didn’t work out so well. The Late James Gallen, one of the longest serving members of the House, discussed this with me. He was there before the new Constitution took effect.

He and I, in the minority, agreed that the problem was three fold:

First, the legislators had to make it appear that they were busy simply to justify their salary.  The current job pays over $100,000 with the expenses along with a generous pension. (I do not collect one). So, they have to introduce legislation vote on legislation and do enormous amounts of constituent work to justify that much money. While most fail, the upshot was lousy legislation and shoddy work. Even in 1972, I ran thinking that I was going to do good things for my constituents. I soon found out that my real job was to stop other legislators from doing things TO their constituents!

Second, instead of attracting the best and brightest, because the job paid so well, it attracts those who want to better themselves financially. It also attracts lowlifes in some areas of the state. When the legislature was part time, it attracted  those who wanted to better themselves by “serving” their communities. Thus the term that is used today( without much meaning, I might add). (I served in the legislature from 1973 to 1976, two terms.) In other words, having done well in the private sector, they wanted to give back something to their communities by serving them. (This is Christ’s example: He that is last shall be first. And That Christian doctrinal belief is also missing from the public marketplace.)

At the turn of the 19th century, there were just as many legislators as today. But the population is double today that which it was in 1900. Thus the representation per person is 1/2 of what it was. Limiting the size of the legislature is the wrong solution to the wrong  problem.

The  third reason is MONEY. The amount of money spent on elections in Pennsylvania and the nation is obscene. It is estimated that nationwide in all state and national elections, 10 to 11 BILLION Dollars will be spent. Only special interests have that kind of cash. When I ran, while there were a few fat-cats that contributed to my campaign, most of the money I raised was from ordinary folks, friends and family. It takes at least $100,000 average per state house race. says that the amount of money spent in Pa in 2014 alone was over $152 MILLION! Now when you understand that because of gerrymandering only a small percentage of House and Senate seats ever change hands (usually under 10%), you can see that someone is paying a huge chunk of cash for relatively small gain.

These guys don’t give money because they’re nice guys.

There is an additional problem: US

“The best laws cannot make a constitution work in spite of morals; morals can turn the worst laws to advantage.”  said Alexis De Tocqueville. He also remarked that people get the government they deserve. That is, unless the people take part in their government on a continuing basis, they will continue to get the kinds of results we get now. When, three or four generations ago, they stopped teaching real “Civics”, people began to lose their connection to their government.

When asked what kind of government do we have, Ben Franklin was said to have replied, “A Republic, if you can keep it.” The price of liberty being eternal vigilance,who can say that they actually keep a watchful eye on their various governments? Few. Very few,indeed.
When I was a legislator, for instance, if I received more than 8 personal letters on a subject, I was worried. Even 40 years ago people stopped participating in their government.

There are solutions.
It is easy to demonize the size of the legislature. But,hopefully, I have dissuaded you from that angle. What we should do is to return the legislature to part time status. By nature, it will become more conservative. Next, reduce the pay by three-quarters, eliminate pensions, perhaps discuss healthcare, eliminate bloated staffs, control the cost of elections by limiting to x dollars per person served, adjusted annually for inflation or deflation.
And then we must mandate the teaching of Civics to our students. And that teaching must include the notions expressed in our original founding documents: the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution.

H. John Stahl represented the 128th District in the Pennsylvania State House from 1973 to 1976.

Pennsylvania Legislature Size Not The Problem

One thought on “Pennsylvania Legislature Size Not The Problem”

  1. I fully agree. I can’t understand how proponents of reducing the number of legislators can claim that it will not reduce representation.

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