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Legislators must decide when, if ever, to cosponsor legislation. Scholars have shown legislators strategically time their positions on salient issues of national importance, but we know little about the timing of position-taking for routine bills or what this activity looks like in state legislatures. We argue that legislators’ cosponsorship decision-making depends on the type of legislation and the partisan dynamics among the current cosponsors. Members treat everyday legislation as generalized position-taking motivated by reelection, yet for key legislation, legislators are policy-oriented. With a new dataset of over 73,000 bills introduced in both chambers of the Texas state legislature in the 75th to 86th regular sessions (1997–2020), we use pooled Cox proportional hazard models to evaluate the dynamics of when legislators legislate, comparing all bills introduced with a subset of key bills. The results show that legislators time their cosponsorship activity in response to electoral vulnerability, partisanship, and the dynamics of the chamber in which they serve.
Evidence suggests that well-funded, professional legislatures more effectively provide constituents with their preferred policies and may improve social welfare. Yet, legislative resources across state legislatures have stagnated or dwindled at least in part due to public antagonism toward increasing representatives’ salaries. We argue that one reason voters oppose legislative resources, like salary and staff, is that they are unaware of the potential benefits. Employing a pre-registered survey experiment with a pre–post design, we find that subjects respond positively to potential social welfare benefits of professionalization, increasing support for greater resources. We also find that individuals identifying with the legislative majority party respond positively to potential responsiveness benefits and that out-partisans do not respond negatively to potential responsiveness costs. In a separate survey of political elites, we find similar patterns. These results suggest that a key barrier to increasing legislative professionalism – anticipated public backlash – may not be insurmountable. The findings also highlight a challenge of institutional choice: beliefs that representatives are unresponsive or ineffective lead to governing institutions that may ensure these outcomes.
A growing literature has revealed a notable electoral advantage for congressional and gubernatorial candidates with deep local roots in their home districts or states. However, there is a dearth of research on the presence and impact of local roots in state legislative races. In this paper, we close that gap by demonstrating the consistent and significant electoral impacts that state legislators’ local roots have on their reelection efforts. We use data capturing a representative cross-section of state legislative incumbents (N = ~5,000) and calculate a novel index measuring the depth of their local roots modeled after Hunt’s (2022, Home Field Advantage: Roots, Reelection, and Representation in the Modern Congress) measure for the US House. We present evidence that state legislators with deep local roots in the districts they represent run unopposed in their general elections nearly twice as often as incumbents with no such roots. Of those who do attract challengers in their reelection efforts, deeply rooted incumbents enjoy an average of three extra percentage points of vote share. Our results have important implications for candidate emergence in state legislative elections during a time when so many are uncontested. They also demonstrate the limits of electoral nationalization for understanding state politics.
Using quantitative data, we construct an explanation of the adoption of policies that address the intersection of firearms and domestic violence. Removing guns from perpetrators of domestic violence, including domestic violence among unmarried couples, decreases intimate partner deaths. Beyond the very positive effects that laws on DV gun ownership by domestic violence perpetrators can have to make women safer, the sponsorship and passage of these laws over the last thirty years have increased. Using our original dataset of domestic violence firearm law (DVFL) enactments, we analyze the circumstances under which states adopt these laws. We find evidence that state and federal factors that influence policy adoption employ a set of political and demographic indicators as independent variables, particularly, the number of gun-related homicides, legislative partisan control, citizen ideology, federal legislation, and election years influence the likelihood of DVFL enactments. We also find support for the effects of vertical policy diffusion but not for horizontal policy diffusion across states. We found no effects associated with support for gun ownership or the percent of women state legislators.
It is widely thought that lobbyists exert influence over legislators’ policy positions and, as a result, over policy outcomes. One mechanism of influence is the provision of policy expertise. Yet, there is little credible empirical evidence that lobbyists’ expertise influences legislative outcomes. Across four experiments fielded with three lobbyists in two state legislatures that examine two public measures of legislators’ positions, we find no evidence that lobbyists’ expertise influences legislators’ policy positions. We do find, in contrast, that the same policy expertise treatment is influential when provided by a legislative staffer. We conclude that policy information can influence legislators’ positions, but that legislators are cautious when that information is provided by lobbyists.
The dispute over the Tariff of 1828 marked a turning point for interposition. State legislatures passed resolutions declaring protective tariffs unconstitutional, increasingly using more threatening language that echoed the doctrine of nullification John C. Calhoun advanced in the South Carolina Exposition of 1828. Calhoun’s arguments distorted Madison’s views and transformed traditional sounding the alarm interposition into an option for each state to nullify acts of the national government that it considered unconstitutional. Nullification prompted a national discussion about the nature of the Union, notably in the Webster–Hayne debate in the United States Senate in 1830. Nullifiers quoted the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions and Madison’s Report of 1800 to justify their constitutional theory, but misunderstood Madison’s theoretical right of the people to interpose in the final resort and overlooked the sounding the alarm interposition of the resolutions. Madison rejected both nullification and secession and tried to explain what he meant by a complex federalism based on divided sovereignty, ultimately failing to correct misconceptions about his resolutions.
Monitoring American Federalism examines some of the nation's most significant controversies in which state legislatures have attempted to be active partners in the process of constitutional decision-making. Christian G. Fritz looks at interposition, which is the practice of states opposing federal government decisions that were deemed unconstitutional. Interposition became a much-used constitutional tool to monitor the federal government and organize resistance, beginning with the Constitution's ratification and continuing through the present affecting issues including gun control, immigration and health care. Though the use of interposition was largely abandoned because of its association with nullification and the Civil War, recent interest reminds us that the federal government cannot run roughshod over states, and that states lack any legitimate power to nullify federal laws. Insightful and comprehensive, this appraisal of interposition breaks new ground in American political and constitutional history, and can help us preserve our constitutional system and democracy.
State governments are tasked with making important policy decisions in the United States. How do state legislators use their public communications—particularly social media—to engage with policy debates? Due to previous data limitations, we lack systematic information about whether and how state legislators publicly discuss policy and how this behavior varies across contexts. Using Twitter data and state-of-the-art topic modeling techniques, we introduce a method to study state legislator policy priorities and apply the method to 15 US states in 2018. We show that we are able to accurately capture the policy issues discussed by state legislators with substantially more accuracy than existing methods. We then present initial findings that validate the method and speak to debates in the literature. The paper concludes by discussing promising avenues for future state politics research using this new approach.
The example of Massachusetts from Chapter 2 illustrates the most prominent critique of open meetings laws among politicians, political observers, and academics: that transparency, and thus increased public oversight, reduces legislative compromise and makes the policymaking process more gridlocked, partisan, and difficult. In Chapter 4 we put the logic of this conventional wisdom to the test. We demonstrate, with a wide range of quantitative analyses, that the effect of transparency on political compromise among legislators is virtually nonexistent. We examine rates of party loyalty, the probability of passing budgets on time, the number of bills introduced and passed, and several other measures. These analyses consistently show that policymaking and compromise are unchanged by states opening or closing their legislative meetings to the public. Importantly, we demonstrate that these null results are not the product of low statistical power. Rather, they are precisely estimated negligible effects.
Next, Chapter 7 extends our analysis of the public’s response to open deliberation within legislatures using standard survey questions from the CES. We begin by showing that citizens in states with open meetings laws are more likely to respond to a state legislative political knowledge question with a “don’t know” response. Additionally, those in open meetings states who provide a substantive response are less likely to know the correct answer compared to citizens in states with closed meetings who answer substantively. We then demonstrate that among those who identify with the party controlling the legislature, open meetings are associated with an increase in state legislative approval. Thus, this chapter (and the previous one) paint a picture of a public in transparency states that approves of its legislature, but does not actually know more about it. The key information link that represents the mechanism of our proposed theory is missing. This finding helps explain why representative behavior does not change in the wake of transparency reforms; the public does not engage with new information provided by these reforms enough to motivate adaptation by legislators.
Finally, Chapter 9 brings our findings together and assesses their collective message for understanding representation in American politics. Our analyses in and out of state legislatures suggest a cynical account of the role of transparency. Open meetings laws create a public more confident in but less knowledgeable about its legislature, while not actually changing legislators’ decisions and behavior. Transparency also does nothing to stimulate electoral competition, a key source of political accountability. In fact, open meetings create an environment in which interest groups can expand their reach and keep the status quo in place. The sum of our analyses depicts a political landscape in which legislators have no need to change their behavior in the wake of transparency laws’ passage. We draw analogies to firms that use the appearance of transparency to improve public relations while remaining mostly opaque to the public. Our evidence suggests that open meetings laws in state legislatures have similar effects, creating the perception of transparency – or the illusion of accountability – without any of the actual positive effects for democracy.
Given the contrast between political elites’ resistance to transparency and reformers’ demand for it, the results in Chapters 4 and 5 present an unusual puzzle. Both sides believe transparency should have an effect, and yet we find that it does not. We begin to address that puzzle in Chapter 6 with an assessment of citizens’ reactions to open governance. Our data sources for this analysis are the 2018 and 2020 CES, which asked survey questions of a representative sample of about 60,000 American adults in each year. We administered three experiments and two standard survey questions to subsets of 1,000 respondents each in these surveys. We find that Americans do, in fact, favor a transparent legislature to a closed one, although the actual policies the legislature implements can strengthen or weaken that preference. Additionally, this pattern is fairly widespread across the population rather than concentrated only in a specific group of citizens with certain political or demographic traits. In short, there is support for the idea that, when it is presented to them, the public responds positively to the opportunity to serve as the principal in our theoretical framework.
In principle, voting is the mechanism by which citizen preferences translate into representatives’ action. If our theoretical expectations hold anywhere, we expect that it would be in a politically consequential setting such as elections. We address this possibility in Chapter 8 by analyzing a wealth of data on candidates and voting in state legislative elections as well as interest groups’ campaign donation and lobbying activity. We find that transparency laws do not improve the electoral chances of challengers. When a state opens its meetings, the pool of candidates does not change and incumbents’ vote share is barely affected. In contrast, the picture does change significantly for interest groups. We find that, in open meetings states, these groups’ donations to incumbents increase by substantial amounts while their contributions to challengers remain basically the same. Additionally, the size of the organized interest community is notably larger when a state holds open meetings. In short, an unintended consequence of transparency is that it facilitates interest groups’ capacity to seek access through elections and lobby state governments to achieve their policy goals.
Chapter 2 animates our theoretical framework with a discussion of the history of the open meetings and freedom of information movement. Beginning with the positive view of open government, we highlight the influential role of the press in driving transparency reforms in the United States. We emphasize the prominent work of Harold Cross and the American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE) in pushing for open meetings beginning in 1953. This new advocacy by the ASNE represented a break with longstanding policy whereby newspapers attempted to cultivate close relationships with elected officials in order to gather “off the record” commentary. The chapter then moves to the perspective of politicians, who have traditionally been reluctant to adopt transparency reforms. We summarize the history of open meetings adoptions in a few states to highlight the different transparency requirements and exemptions, concentrating on Illinois and Ohio (the first states to adopt open meetings requirements via constitution), Massachusetts (which recently sought to end its state legislature’s exemption), and Florida (one of the most recent states to adopt such a requirement).
Finding little evidence in Chapter 4 to support the arguments of opponents to open meetings laws, Chapter 5 considers the argument of proponents. Open meetings advocates, and indeed, state laws themselves imply that representation improves in the wake of the adoption of open meetings. We conduct an empirical test of the claim that open meetings are essential for the public to hold legislators to account, and thus, for representation to actually occur in the policymaking process. We assess the effects of transparency on numerous outcomes related to representation, including its impact on policy responsiveness and policy innovation. We also consider whether open legislatures are more particularistic – emphasizing the allocation of funding and resources to individual districts more than efforts to make broad statewide policy. Similar to Chapter 4, we show that open meetings consistently exert precisely estimated, but substantively small, effects on representation. Thus, despite the normative promise of transparency reforms, we come to the pessimistic conclusion that they do not achieve their primary goal.
Chapter 3 introduces our approach to measuring the transparency of deliberations in state legislatures. We discuss our coding strategies and provide descriptive information about our temporal data on the adoption of open deliberation laws and exemptions to those laws. This summary of the data provides important context, including general patterns in the timing and geography of the transparency movement and its recent decline. Importantly, the chapter includes a discussion on enforcement of these laws, demonstrating empirically that they are not written as token gestures toward accountability. They are intended to provide meaningful, powerful mechanisms to keep legislative deliberation public. Finally, we develop event history models of transparency adoption and exemption across the states to better understand the systematic factors associated with the decisions to open or close legislative meetings. These models generalize the historical patterns we uncover in Chapter 2, demonstrating in particular the pivotal role of a powerful press corps in pushing the transparency initiative forward and sustaining it over time.
In this chapter we introduce the framework of principal-agent models of representation. We develop the idea of legislators as agents of constituent principals and consider the role of private information in the ability of those principals to hold legislators accountable for their actions. We then expand this general theoretical framework to cover the role of open meetings laws themselves. We contend that transparency reveals useful substantive information about the policymaking process that constituents can use to evaluate their representatives. We discuss a theoretical tension over transparency: proponents’ views of its centrality to democratic accountability versus opponents’ claim that it inhibits legislators’ ability to work. We highlight the importance of resolving this tension for political science in general and in the specific case of American state politics. We discuss our research design strategy and methodological approach and summarize each chapter of the book.
The examination of the interaction between the institutions in American state politics has long suffered from a dearth of data. This is the case despite the importance of understanding the separation of powers in the states and the specific effects on policy making and policy outcomes. In this article, I introduce a new, original dataset of court-curbing introductions by state legislators. The data include information on more than 1,200 state legislative bills that would restrict the power of the courts. In this article, I provide descriptive statistics for the data, employ the data to test hypotheses, and explain how this data may be used in future scholarly research on the interactions between state legislators and state courts.
Many important traits of state legislatures vary across chambers within a state. Yet according to existing typologies in the comparative study of bicameralism, the 49 bicameral American state legislatures would be deemed quite homogeneous. To resolve this disjuncture, I identify a novel dimension of bicameralism that distinguishes among state legislatures by capturing the extent to which the two chambers serve as meaningfully different venues for influence. Based on this framework, I develop an index of bicameral “distinctiveness” rooted in three traits that speak to policy influence across chambers: the ratio of seats, bipartisan representation, and constituency dissimilarity. This measure reveals sizable variation across states and a conspicuous geographic pattern, with considerably greater bicameral distinctiveness in the Eastern United States. In turn, I assess the construct validity of this measure, showing how patterns of second chamber bill amendment vary systematically with the level of bicameral distinctiveness.
Scholars posit that groups play an important role in the legislative process and legislator decision making, but find these questions difficult to empirically study due to the private information exchanges. This article exploits a legislative reporting institution to explore group involvement in policy making. In the California state legislature, extra-legislative individuals or organizations that write legislation and secure a legislator to author the bill may be listed as sponsors. Data come from California bill analyses and extend from 1993 to 2014. This group tactic is frequently used: 40% of bills introduced and over 60% of bills that become law list an extra-legislative sponsor. Group sponsorship is significantly related to passage, even after matching on a number of covariates. Legislators use fewer group bills and substitute out of group bills as they gain experience. Group input serves as an integral part of a legislative portfolio and the agenda-setting stage of legislative decision making.