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July 15, 2010

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Wendy Madsen

Hi Karl,

Thanks for this information. I enjoyed the State Legislatures article and will reprint it for our new leadership training. I found used copies of The Sometime Goverments on the Web. Anywhere pristine copies could possibly be found? - Wendy Madsen, Wyoming Legislative Service Office

Karl Kurtz

I don't know of any source of new copies of "The Sometime Governments," Wendy. Online used book sellers are the best bet for finding copies of this out of print book.

Gerry Cohen


Back in 1971 when I was a political science graduate student at Chapel Hill, I started hanging around the NC General Assembly. I was fascinated by the Sometime Governments, a scathing attack on all 50 state legislatures through the eyes of reformers. (Of course, not everyone's definition of reform is the same, and what seemed like a reform in 1971 may seem antiquated or even counterproductive now.) The book suggested 23 specific reforms for North Carolina.

I finally got a job at the General Assembly in 1977, and eventually got around to writing my Masters Thesis in 2004, tracking the implementation of those reforms in North Carolina from 1971-2004. (11 implemented, 10 partially implemented) Here's a link to my theses:

http://ncbilldrafting.wordpress.com/files/2007/07/2004mathesis.doc

Wendy Madsen

Thanks, Karl. I found a used copy in good condition online and I also found one in our office! - Wendy

Karl Kurtz

Thanks for posting the item about your thesis, Gerry. I had meant to include that in my original posting but forgot to do so.

Karl Kurtz

I received the following comment from Rep. John Patton, Wyoming. Rep. Patton served in the Wyoming Senate in the 1960s but left that position to work for the Citizens Conference on State Legislatures on implementation of the recommendations in "The Sometime Governments" in the early 1970s. He returned to the Wyoming Legislature in 2009 and represents the 29th district.

"The history of events in the 60’s and ‘70’s is not difficult to understand, but to share a perspective may be helpful. A large part of the success of "The Sometime Governments” was due to the public’s attitude of tolerance, if not support, toward state government and the effort of several nationally respected individuals, organizations and academics that joined in shaping the public’s sentiments.

"The early work on “Strengthening the States” by the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University provided state-specific evaluations of several legislatures in booklet form. Those efforts began in the early 60’s. During that period, the Eagleton institute also selected two legislators from each of the 50 states for “fellowships." Those selected for the fellowships were not necessarily current leaders but were thought to be potential leaders of legislative reform. The fellows attended a week long discussion on the state of the state legislatures, the possible improvements, and its relative importance. I was fortunate to be one of those chosen and I still have several of the “Strengthening the States” books that aided our efforts of change in my state legislature.

"'The Sometime Governments' built on this other work. As a national attention-getter they incorporated state specific data into a mathematically quantitative form for comparative uses. The legislative evaluation study used the premise that every state legislature should be expected to be “functional, accountable, independent, informed and representative”. However, the first five chapters, pages one through 141, explained the importance of the reasoning of the “FAIIR evaluation” for national as well as citizens expectations."

"Wow, the audacity to even think of a ranking system! But the shock worked...."

John's comment about public support for government in the 1970s touches on a key issue as we consider the possibility of rekindling a legislative strengthening movement today. Is public cynicism and distrust of government so toxic today that it is not possible to launch a legislative improvement program? Legislative reform does not occur in a vacuum. Committed legislative leaders are the most important element in legislative strengthening, but they require substantial public support to get things done. One of the successes of the Citizens Conference was the creation of state citizens commissions on the legislature (see #73 in the posting)that provided "blue ribbon" stimulus and support to legislative leaders who were willing to take on the difficult tasks of legislative reform.

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