During the legislative session, Rep. Mike Foote of the 12th Colorado House District spends a great deal of his time learning about bills coming to his committees or the floor. When possible, he also tries to support funding for the University of Colorado, where many of his constituents are students or employees. And beyond all of this work, he is able to respond to virtually all constituents who contact him with requests for help with veterans’ benefits, unemployment checks, or other problems that arise.
Rep. Foote points to the resources available to him as a key factor in meeting all of these various demands. In particular, the nonpartisan staff employed by the legislature is available to help with policy research and other tasks. Rep. Foote can also direct casework to staff members whose primary responsibility is constituent services. Without this help, the amount of time he spends on these various aspects of the job would be much different.
Claire Ayer's experience as a legislator is quite different. As a committee chair and majority whip in the Vermont Senate (a small chamber of thirty members), she has a great deal of legislative responsibility. And as a representative for over 40,000 constituents, her district keeps her busy as well.
The Vermont General Assembly is a citizen legislature – members are all retired or hold other jobs in addition to serving as representatives. Sen. Ayer, a retired nurse, and her colleagues each receive $10,000 per year plus compensation for food and lodging. The legislature provides committee staff as well as fiscal and legal analysts, but otherwise legislators do quite a bit of work themselves. Sen. Ayer splits her time, devoting some to work in Montpelier and some to her district. Earlier in her career, she devoted more time to work in her district, but that has shifted as she has been asked to take on more responsibility for statewide policy issues. She says additional assistance in her district would be very beneficial. For example, it would help her stay current with requests from constituents and clear the 2,000 e-mail messages in her inbox.
I continue the empirical test of my theory in this chapter by turning to the supply of representation. My claim from Chapter 2 is that legislators emphasize different dimensions in a strategic manner to maximize their chances of reelection.