Two gladiators clash swords in the murky pit of an arena while voters cheer from the stands above. These formidable opponents were once senators and representatives in Michigan’s state Legislature who were forced to do battle when Michigan’s Senate was eliminated in favor of a unicameral legislature. With fewer seats to fill, only the strongest and most worthy will survive. The situation might sound far-fetched – and blood sports aren’t likely to return – but a voter initiative to dissolve the state Senate might appear on the ballot this November. The initiative, if passed, would streamline state government and save taxpayers money.
The reason the federal government has a bicameral legislature consisting of the House of Representatives and the Senate is to balance the power of larger states with those that have smaller populations. But the notion of a two-chamber legislature has little merit within a state government. The result for Michigan is an estimated $50 million wasted annually in salaries and bureaucracy with little apparent benefit. Because senators and representatives are elected from redundant and arbitrarily drawn districts, the public gains little additional representation from this system.
Indeed, the current inclusion of a Senate in Michigan’s government actually blunts the democratic process since it is less representative than the House and delays action in the Legislature. Reducing two legislative bodies to one will not affect the system of checks and balances because only separate branches of government can balance one another. While such a large overhaul might seem daunting to a timid public, there should be little sentimentalism (or mercy) for a state government that is plagued with ineptitude and disconnected from its constituents.
There are legitimate concerns about an experience gap between senators and House members. Removing unnecessary term limits and timing the dissolution of the Senate to allow senators and representatives to compete for the remaining seats would solve this problem. The result is a screening process that filters out useless seat-warmers, leaving genuine lawmakers behind to actually make decent laws. One might be more reluctant to take such drastic action if the current government were worth saving in the first place. Should the initiative get on the ballot and pass, it will be time for the fat cats to prove their worth and valor in the electoral arena.
Gavin Stern is an LSA sophomore and a member of the Daily’s Editorial Board