Want a more efficient state? Go unicameral
WHEN you are rich, two houses are nice and you can probably afford them. When you are not rich, two houses is one too many.
That pretty well sums up how I feel about the bicameral legislature -- ours, and the many other states in our nation that would do well to board up one house in the interest of saving taxpayers' money. The same should apply to the U.S. Congress.
Don't laugh. I've been told it can never happen because incumbents would never run the risk of losing their cushy jobs. Some might think they cannot find jobs in other than public service. But how many of you really think of all these officials as "public servants"?
Unicameral legislative bodies work well in some countries -- and even in Nebraska, one of our own 50 states. Our County Councils also are unicameral. Let's hope they never get the idea that bicameral Councils would provide more jobs for wannabe politicians. Just think how much more it would cost for still less efficiency in government if we had bicameral County Councils.
One-house legislative bodies save money and are more open to the public. They don't waste as much time by moving bills into conference committees with the "other house," and they don't often lose bills or mess up other important matters. Mistakes are fewer and further between, and they are easier to spot and correct. Oversight is easier. Everyone is more accountable. Things get done. The public is better served.
No one ever accuses Nebraskans of being out of step. Rather, they are admired for keeping costs down with lower per capita government costs than other states.
Nebraska, which has had a unicameral legislature for more than 65 years, has 49 senators in its one house. We could probably do it as well with one house made up of 25 senators.
By direction of Nebraska voters in 1934, Nebraska legislators are elected on a nonpartisan ballot. The unicameral legislature actually does conduct its affairs as a nonpartisan body. Elected senators would be more responsible to the constituency than our current very partisan system, where the party in power takes care of their party members who helped finance their election.
We could save untold millions of dollars each year in Hawaii alone while streamlining our government and making it more efficient. If all 50 states and the federal government switched to unicameral legislatures, the savings could be in the billions of dollars each year -- money that could be used for education, housing, health care, public safety -- all things that should take priority over lining the pockets of a handful of clever politicians who probably can't get or hold another job.
Here's an idea to get it started: When you are asked to vote for or otherwise support candidates, ask their position on the question of a unicameral legislative body. If they support the costly bicameral system we now tolerate, don't vote for them. Campaign against them.
Not everyone knows why we have two houses in our state Legislature in the first place, but everyone pretty well knows why we haven't been able to close one of them: It would take a constitutional convention. So, let's do it.
The incumbents are afraid they would lose out in a bid to remain in office in the one remaining house, and they could not get a comparable job. And, of course, they all want to "serve the people." Shake it up a bit, and the good ones will come to the surface and survive in the new government.
So, with only five years of state service required for retirement, let's restructure our Legislature to a single house, to be effective when the last incumbent has a vested state retirement. Then they would have no logical reason to vote against it.
If they oppose it, asking the obvious question, "Do you want me on the unemployment rolls?" your answer should be "Yes!"
Keith Haugen is a former state director of information.