by Karl Kurtz
More historical outtakes from Brian Weberg's and my article about developing a new agenda for legislative strengthening:
The Citizens Conference on State Legislatures was formed--and flourished--more than a decade before the National Conference of State Legislatures came into being in 1975, but its demise as a force for legislative change was intertwined with the success of the new organization of legislators and legislative staff.
The formation of NCSL was an indirect outgrowth of the legislative strengthening movement that was inspired by the Citizens Conference on State Legislatures and "The Sometime Governments." It was a recognition that stronger and more effective state legislatures needed a more unified and professional national organization and presence. As NCSL matured, it played a significant role in spreading the spirit, although not the letter, of the Citizens Conference’s gospel and helped legislatures build their capacity to function as independent, coequal branches of government.
In 1975 the Citizens Conference on State Legislatures renamed itself Legis 50, largely to avoid confusion with the newly formed NCSL. At the same time, however, Legis 50 moved its headquarters to Denver from Kansas City in order to be closer to NCSL and to associate themselves with the new organization.
As time went by, though, NCSL gained the expertise and, as an organization of the legislatures themselves, had the credibility to become the go-to source on legislative strengthening, organization and procedure. The Citizens Conference had done its job of ringing alarm bells and issuing a call to action--something that a membership organization like NCSL could not have done--but it was gradually eclipsed by the new group.
In 1980, after experiencing substantial financial problems as private foundations withdrew from the legislative strengthening field and because of internal mismanagement, Legis 50 folded its tent and went out of business. It was, in some ways, a victim of its own success.
Unfortunately, there's almost no history of the Citizens Conference available online or anywhere else that I know of. The only source of information is the Auraria Library in Denver, which is the repository of official records of the Citizens Conference and Legis 50. The library has compiled a brief official history that outlines key dates and organizational actions and lists some of their major projects, but this history is lacking in context and color. For example, the name of Larry Margolis, the former chief of staff to California Speaker Jesse Unruh and the moving force behind the Citizens Conference, is never mentioned.