Time to End the Legislature as We Know It

February 01, 1994|By H. GEORGE HAHN II

If, as Henry Adams said, ''Practical politics consists in ignoring facts,'' then the Maryland legislature is an assembly of the greatest of both politicians and ignoramuses. For what fact, political and economic, could be more prominent than the duplication and state-sanctioned waste that the General Assembly itself personifies?

To put the point plainly, what is the need for a two-house legislature and the duplication it countenances and even spawns?

In a bicameral state legislature, there is no federal principle involved as with Congress on the national level. There is no halving of the legislative workload, because Senate and House bills must be researched, studied and debated by both houses anyway. Indeed, the money and time spent on the offices, salaries, perquisites and pensions of separate Senate and House staffs alone to merge bills is exponential. And if there is any increase in intellectual and ethical powers, it is invisible.

With a unicameral legislature, fewer lawmakers and their staffs would cost less; taxes could even be lowered accordingly. Fewer lawmakers would be more in the eyes of the press and public before elections and during sessions. And fewer lawmakers would probably mean fewer but better laws, fewer trivial proclamations and citations and fewer lobbyists, which might drive down prices of products and services and improve profits of the interests that finance this legal bribery.

In a unicameral body, checks and balances would not disappear, for the governor, parties, factions and the Court of Appeals would still remain. Nor would proportional representation lessen, for a single house could be elected on the basis of county population, while the governor and the Courts of Appeals and Special Appeals would represent the state as a political entity.

Regardless of its merits, has there ever been in either the House of Delegates or the Senate a motion to bring even the discussion of a unicameral body to the floor with an eye to a constitutional amendment?

Yet even if the General Assembly fails to notice the constitutional fat in the State House, not one of the 188 solons -- or any in the growing flock of gubernatorial candidates -- all purporting to promote the state's economic well-being, has suggested constitutional amendments to abolish, with staffs, salaries, perquisites, office expenses, expense accounts and pensions, other duplicative features of the state's polity:

* The ornamental lieutenant governorship, which could be replaced with a La-Z-Boy lounger.

* The offices of state prosecutor, people's counsel and public defender. Should not these be telescoped into the attorney general's office?

* The office of treasurer. Cannot the comptroller's office perform the duties of treasurer?

* The office of secretary of state. With no need for drafting foreign treaties since the days of the Articles of Confederation, is this boondoggle necessary? This office's job, says the Maryland Constitution, is ''to attest to the governor's signature on all public papers and documents'' and to be the ''repository of all executive orders and proclamations and is responsible for their distribution.'' Is there not in all of official Annapolis a notary public, filing cabinet and mail room to perform these labors?

Of course it could be argued that one of these duplicative offices could hatch one of the future 47 senators or 141 delegates whose wisdom will guide Maryland as that of Pericles did Athens. Until then, wishing that legislators move to abolish one of their own nests is idle fancy. Baloney does not submit itself to the grinder.

H. George Hahn II is professor of English at Towson State University.

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