The Raleigh News & Observer has an interesting article (found via Ed Cone) about North Carolina’s traditional part-time legislature. The basic thrust of the article is that most of the people serving North Carolina are retired, self-employed or independently wealthy due to the fact that the legislators aren’t paid much and the job requires an almost full-time commitment that precludes your average person from serving. There’s some mention of creating a “professional” legislature with full-time pay, but others argue that the legislature should remain as it is. Some of the interviewees also say that they worry that there are not enough young people in the body which might skew the body’s deliberation.
One of the points the article makes that I find to be totally irrelevant is this:
It’s noteworthy who does not serve in the legislature:
North Carolina has more than 120,000 store sales clerks and 107,000 retail cashiers — but none in the General Assembly.
There are no lawmakers who make their living as food preparers, freight haulers, assemblers, office clerks, truck drivers, registered nurses, customer service representatives or waitresses — the rest of the state’s most common jobs.
The point of a representative democracy is not that it literally have a representative from every walk of life, but that it enable people from every walk of life to choose who represents them. If the person chosen to represent them does not satisfy their needs then they are free to choose a replacement during the next election.
It is also highlighted in the article that the percentage of black and hispanic representatives is lower than their respective percentages of the population. This is an old saw in politics and feeds into the whole gerrymandering debate, but again it really is irrelevant. No matter our color our vote still counts the same whether we are black or white, rich or poor. Sure each person’s individual influence varies outside of the voting booth, but inside it we are equal and we have the same opportunity to choose our representative in the government. Does that mean we will always get what we want? No, but that’s not what a representative democracy is all about. It’s about our ability to SAY who we want not our ability to GET who we want.
BTW, I think this argument holds true with regards to age as well. I know quite a few retirees who are younger at heart than any 30-something I’ve ever met. Hell, most of us thirty-somethings are too worn out by our everyday lives (i.e. kids) to feel anything but broken-down and old. If my old-codger of a rep isn’t doing what I like I’ll just vote against her next time.
And for the record I am completely opposed to a full-time, professional legislature. There’s enough corruption with them working part time…imagine what some of these jokers could do if they had all year to do it!