Special Guest Column: Part-Time Legislature Un-American - By Chuck Moss

December 17, 2017

Editor's Note: We are pleased to present the following guest column written by former State Representative Chuck Moss. A Republican from Birmingham, Moss served in the Michigan House of Representatives from 2007-2013. Moss earned the distinction of "Champion of Commerce" by the Michigan Chamber for earning a perfect score on the Chamber's 2011-2012 Legislative Voting Record. 

“Thanks for the job interview and I’d like to start by firing my boss. That means you.”

Now there’s a deal clincher! Who wouldn’t want to hire that guy? “Put me on the payroll and I’ll eliminate your authority. Whatta you say?” I know what I’d say:

“You gotta be kidding!” And then I’d say “get lost.”

Here in Michigan, in America, The Boss is the people. You and me.  Our basic plan of government wasn’t just tossed together at random, but carefully designed to protect We the People from losing our freedom and our rights to tyranny. Fundamental is the division of power into three branches, each supposed to be limited to its separate areas and powers. The Executive replicates the King, the Courts interpret laws, but the most powerful should be the People’s Branch: the Legislature.

The Legislature is the People’s branch. Representatives and Senators have to run for election and reelection. The House have small districts and short terms so Reps have to stay close to their bosses—the people—or get replaced. Senators have bigger districts and longer terms but the principle is the same. Reps and Senators can—and do—get booted out, defeated, fired by the voters. You can’t call up the Supreme Court, and the Governor may be busy, but any decent legislator will take your call or answer your letter—and if not, you can toss him out.

So what do we make of an attempt to burn down the People’s House? Vote it away?  How: It’s called “Part time Legislature,” and does way more than adjust working hours. Main points:

  • House and Senate to serve no more than 90 days, consecutively.
  • Cut Legislative pay to $30,000. 

This Plan also calls for eliminating all Legislator pensions and health care. Ummm.. y’know that pensions were eliminated years ago, and Representative retiree health care was eliminated in 2011; I know because I voted to end it. Maybe the Part-Time folks didn’t notice the House got that job done itself.

Why not have a part-time Legislature? Everybody hates the Legislature, right? This is a constant throughout history. And some other states have sorta done it. What’s wrong? Here’s the problem:

First off, we already have term limits. So add in part time and the Legislature basically goes out of business. Start in January, end in March.  And starting April Fool’s to New Year’s Eve, what happens?

What about the state budget, which is the Legislature’s main responsibility? The Governor won’t even have put together a proposed budget by then, much less given the House and Senate time to analyze it, hold public hearings, hear from interested citizens, and perform its job of finalizing the spending. State Fiscal Year ends September 30th. Who deals with spending questions that arise? I’ll give you one guess: it’s the job Mr. Calley’s running for.

What about other issues? The world doesn’t stop on April 1st. Lansing’s still operating. 

What about citizens who have problems with the government or the bureaucrats? Legislators out the door at midnight March 31 aren’t going to have offices to call. And if you do reach them, who’s going to listen to them?

What happens when problems and issues come up during the other nine months of year? Who changes laws, sets priorities, and responds to concerns people have? What if water quality blows up in Flint, who demands answers from the Executive Branch? Besides TV newspeople and litigating lawyers?

What about the power of Advise and Consent? The Governor just has to wait until April to appoint cabinet heads, to avoid this check on Executive power.

Cut pay to $30K. Fine, then who does your legislator really work for? You, the citizens who pay the salary, or his/her real employer? Who’s the boss: the people who elect or the guy who signs the paycheck from the serious gig that puts food on the table? Or else you get independently wealthy, millionaire retirees.

Everybody hates the Legislature. But without a functioning one, a Legislature gutted by term limits and part-time, who wins? Obviously, the Executive becomes dictator. Who exercises oversight from April 1 to December 31? Who checks out and approves spending? Who holds the Executive responsible and accountable? Who brings up legislation to address problems that pop up or get discovered the other three quarters of the year?

And when I say “the Executive” becomes a dictator, I don’t necessarily mean the Governor, who’s term limited, too. Real Executive power is held in the bureaucracy. The nameless, faceless, virtually unaccountable, bureaucrats make decisions, pass rules, decide the fate of people and communities. These folks were here before the Governor before the current Governor was here, and will be here when the Governor after the current Governor is gone. With a gutted Legislature, they’re the real rulers.

Maybe we should call this “Part-Time vs Madison.” James Madison was one of the Founders who helped write the US Federal Constitution, which is model for the Michigan Constitution. The “Schoolhouse Rock” structure we take for granted: three branches, bills becomes a law, checks and balances, none of this was an accident. It was deliberately and thoughtfully constructed, and then explained in detail to the American people in the Federalist essays. 

We have three branches, all are there to check the power of the others. The Legislature is the branch of the People. The House of Representatives must get reelected every two years, so they have to stay in touch. State Senate is four years. Reps and Senators can be recalled by their bosses, the people, any time. The people can bring petition drives to put laws up for vote. The people can find their legislator and grill him or her about anything, ask questions, and give a piece of their mind; trust me on this. The people are the bosses and if they feel like firing a Rep they can and will.

Mad at your Representative? Disappointed? Think a Rep or a Senator isn’t doing the job you sent them there to do? Vote him/her out and hire someone else. You don’t have to wait for the end of the term either; you can recall your legislators any time. 

The Legislature is the People’s House, the check and balance to the Executive. That’s why the Founders built this structure. Burn down your Legislature and who keeps the Governor and bureaucrats in check? Nobody. Maybe that’s why the plan to trash the Legislature originally came from guys who want to be Chief Executive. “Hire me, and I’ll make myself King, my employees will be barons, and we’ll fire your employees who keep me in check. I’ll get rid of the People’s House.”

Doesn’t sound like a winner to me. Sounds anti-Constitutional. And, well, un-American.