by Brian Weberg
1972 was a dynamic and turbulent year for state legislatures and American government. The book The Sometime Governments—indicting state legislatures as weak and ineffective—was making its way around legislative circles. At the same time, legislatures were completing their first redistricting based on the 1960s’ one person-one vote Supreme Court decision. Vietnam War protests were raging in cities across the nation and five men were arrested breaking into the Democratic National Committee office at the Watergate Hotel and office complex in Washington, D.C..
It was the best of times and the worst of times to enter public service, and that is what Karl Kurtz chose to do in September of that year when he accepted a job with the National Legislative Conference (NLC). 40 years later, Karl continues to lead and contribute to the research, debate and dialog that has made state legislatures the powerful public policy players that they are today.
Karl received his Ph.D. in political science from Washington University that same year, following a stint as a Congressional Fellow, working for Indiana Senator Birch Bayh and New Jersey Congressman Frank Thompson, Jr.. He then brought his experience and training to academia as an assistant professor of political science at the University of Georgia. And in the fall of ’72 he was off to Lexington, Kentucky to work for the NLC and begin a career path that he certainly did not imagine at that time.
Karl was at the table in August, 1974 in Albuquerque, New Mexico when the National Legislative Conference, the National Society of State Legislators and the National Conference of State Legislative Leaders sat down to plan a merger of their organizations into a single, more powerful voice. He was one of the original employees of the National Conference of State Legislatures when it opened its doors in Denver on January 1, 1975, where he has held a variety of director-level roles and responsibilities.
During his tenure at NCSL, Karl has developed and instituted many innovations including the Legislative Staff Management Institute, The Trust for Representative Democracy, the Legislators Back to School Program and The Thicket which you are reading now. Perhaps most important, Karl is the institutional soul of the organization. Karl has authored innumerable articles and books displaying his unique insight on how legislatures work, and he has probably visited nearly every legislature in the country as well as many parliaments and legislatures all over the globe. His commitment to good government and his belief in representative democracy permeates NCSL with values and knowledge that keeps it motivated and on mission. Karl is NCSL’s professor in residence, its institutional memory and mentor to many NCSL staff.
Karl is one of only a few individuals who can claim this life-long record of service to American democracy and to state legislatures. From all of us at NCSL, thank you Karl.