STATE Rep. Gary Banz wants to make state government smaller — literally. Banz, R-Midwest City, is proposing that the membership of the Legislature be reduced by about 10 percent, through a vote of the people.
We can hear the complaints already from residents who would feel slighted by such a change — not to mention the legislators who would be affected. At the same time, the idea of fewer legislators is likely to be well received by voters who figure the less government, the better.
Oklahomans haven't been shy in the past about knocking lawmakers down a peg. In the 1990s, we became the first state to approve term limits. We also voted to restrict the Legislature's ability to raise taxes, and to shorten the legislative session. Could a smaller Legislature be next?
Presently there are 48 senators and 101 House members representing Oklahoma's 3.7 million people. Having fewer members wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing — indeed Oklahoma City's council wards are larger than the city's Senate and House districts. The present legislative makeup made more sense in the early 20th century when Oklahoma became a state. It's debatable whether it's necessary now, especially given how technology has enhanced communication between constituents and elected officials.
Oklahoma's representation is similar to states of comparable size and population. Arkansas (2.9 million residents) has 35 senators, 100 House members. The legislature in Iowa (3.05 million) comprises 50 senators and 100 representatives. In Kansas (2.8 million), the breakdown is 40 and 125, respectively.
Oregon (3.8 million) and Utah (2.7 million) get by with fewer — 30 senators, 60 representatives in Oregon, 29 senators, 75 House members in Utah.
Banz's resolution would reduce the number of House seats to 91 and cut the number of Senate seats to 43. The change would go into effect in 2021, following the next census and redistricting process.
And it wouldn't be the first time the Legislature's makeup has changed. Banz points out that in the early 1920s, the House had 92 members; 30 years later the number was 124. “History shows this idea is very feasible.”
Approving his legislation, Banz says, would show that lawmakers are willing to back up their frequent rhetoric about the need for less government. “I believe the Legislature needs to look at itself first,” he says. “If we ask agencies to consolidate, it is important for the Legislature to take the lead and do the same.”
It'll be interesting to see how many of his colleagues feel the same way.