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« The Sometime Governments Revisited | Main | Charley’s Dilemma »

July 15, 2010


Karl Kurtz

I received this comment from Michael Bird, NCSL's senior federal affairs counsel who worked on several Legis 50 projects in the 1970s before coming to work for NCSL.

"It is worth noting that CCSL's strategy for improving legislatures, unlike NCSL then and now, was to pursue an inside-outside strategy to accomplish internal institutional strengthening. Work was done from a uniform menu of changes - developed for the most part by legislative leaders and staff and approved by an executive committee. Most of it appeared in "The Sometime Governments." This menu, in whole or in part, served to produce change from the inside--but also served as a tool for state "reform" groups (from the media, to Common Cause) to push for change from the outside. CCSL's modus operandi was not to concentrate on narrow topics but to push as many institutional buttons as possible simultaneously.

"Legis 50 definitely victimized itself with witless fiscal mismanagement. It also was victimized by its own success in having the reform agenda adopted in whole or in part by legislatures and legislative leaders around the country--minimizing the need for an entity like Legis 50. Also, Legis 50 attempted to expand its presence through the topical subject grant approach--a tactic that resulted in some successful forays into the areas of juvenile justice, workers compensation, etc.--but a strategy that moved it away from the original mission and into a world where it could not compete with NCSL and others and where fiscal shenanigans were allowed to dominate daily operations."

Karl Kurtz

Carl Tubbesing, NCSL's deputy executive director emeritus who left NCSL for a year in the 1970s to work for Legis 50 and then returned to NCSL, sent this comment in response to Michael Bird's.

"I agree with Michael's insights. I think it is impossible to overestimate the role that poor management played in the organization's demise. I was convinced when I went there that there was room for both NCSL and Legis 50--with NCSL working with legislatures from the inside to build capacity and Legis50 working its reform agenda from other angles. The fact that Legis50 had to turn to policy-area grants (under the guise of capacity building) and the horrible fiscal management never gave my assumption a chance. I was struck in re-reading "The Sometime Governments" recently how many of the research questions we handled in NCSL's early years were clearly driven by "The Sometime Governments" recommendations. Legis 50 didn't have the resources to handle those questions and NCSL did--another way of framing NCSL's role in Legis 50's demise."

Karl Kurtz

Earl Mackey, NCSL's executive director, 1975-82, added this comment (OK, I admit that I solicited all these comments from my old timer colleagues):

"I think you have this about right, Karl. CCSL played a very important role in the overall effort to strengthen legislatures. In the end, all of these efforts revolve around a set of personalities and you have made that point with CCSL. However, the same was true with NCSL--a unique set of legislators and legislative staff came together to make it all happen."

Anne Dunn

Louisiana was one of the states that participated in CCSL's Legislative Improvement Program. I remember filling out the long questionnaire for the CCSL study that became the sometimes governments. Tom Schwertfeger came to LA (and later George Whelan) and worked with our affairs committees along with those of us already on the ground here. The program was very successful -- our own legislature had completed a major study of legislative improvement right before "sometimes governments" and it was a great fit -- also with the LA personalities such as Speaker Bubba Henry and Senator Claude Duval. I don't think the CCSL health care project that followed was as successful, probably because the staff tended to be an entity unto themselves. I can appreciate the comments about the difficulties with the standard 'menu" -- I remember joking comments among the CCSL alumni about resistence to the uniform necessity of a consent calendars everywhere!

Some credit for the early success of NCSL should also be given to the expertise and strength of NCSL's predecessor the NLC -- We relied on them a great deal even as we worked with CCSL.

John W. Patton

The Ford Foundation funded a joint project of CCSL and NCL named 'The Project for Legislative Improvement'. THe States involved were Mass.& New Hampshire, Ohio, Minn., Colo. & Arizona, and Louisiana. Michael Bird and Tom Schwertfeger were both valued members of the project, being the implementers in indivicual States. I agree with Michaels observations on the error of a changed stratagy from the origianal mission. That change occured as the PLI project and the Model Comm. project started to wind down in 1974/95 and about the time I accepted another call. I futher agree with Earl Machey's observations of the many 'personalities' involved that made it all happen. Somewhere, in a box ?, I should have some of the old records, in addition to all the books that I have saved!
John W. Patton - former Dir. of Operations, CCSL

rosemary evetts


I found your short article about CCSL very interesting. The Auraria Library Archives and Special Collections Dept. has owned the Legis 50 collection since 1980. In today's archival world the 5 page historical sketch would be reduced to a one page timeline. The historical sketch was deliberately written without color and/or context - that is the responsibility of the historian, writer, and scholar. Our job as archivists is to receive, process, describe and make available the materials. Yet in the 30 years that we have owned these materials not one historian, writer, or scholar has ever asked to use the collection. I would gladly welcome any person who would make use of it. Please send them to me - or even visit us yourself.

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