Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Jurisdiction, Institutional Structure, and Committee Representativeness

Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Jurisdiction, Institutional Structure, and Committee Representativeness

Article excerpt

I model the ideological representativeness of state legislative committees and their majority-party slates, testing hypotheses derived from extant models of committees and institutional choice. Committee representativeness and the representativeness of majority-party slates vary across states as a function of their effective number of parties and professionalization, but the jurisdiction of a committee has little discernible effect on representativeness of either. A possible mechanism is that competitive parties create committees that more closely adhere to the party ratio of the chamber, eliminating many possible outlying committees.

An important controversy in legislative politics concerns the rationale behind committees. Are committees set up to facilitate and protect vote trades (Weingast and Marshall 1988, Shepsle and Weingast 1987), to deliver information to the floor (Gilligan and Krehbiel 1987, 1989; Krehbiel 1991), or to help members of the majority party obtain re-election (Cox and McCubbins 1993)? Or are some committees set up for each of these purposes, depending on how they affect others (Cox and McCubbins 1993; Maltzman 1997)?

Competition among these theories has generally been over which theory best accounts for the observed facts in Congress. Broadly, distributive theories predict unrepresentative committees, informational models predict representative committees, and partisan models generally predict representative committee slates of the majority party. The partisan and conditional models both predict variation across jurisdictions. Some researchers (Krehbiel 1991; Cox and McCubbins 1993: Groseclose 199; Maltzman 1997) have found few unrepresentative committees in Congress, while others (Weingast and Marshall 1988; Hall and Grofman 1990; Londregan and Snyder 1994; Adler and Lapinski 1997) have found significant (though minority) numbers of them, and the methodological disputes within this debate remain lively. More recently, some researchers have also looked for outlying committees in state legislatures (Overby and Kazee 2000, Overby Kazee, and Prince 2004, Battista 2004). Here, unrepresentative committees are rare.

However, relatively little work has focused on the opportunity these varied theories provide to examine different, yet rational, reasons why legislatures divide themselves into committees. While one legislature might allocate power along distributive principles, another might organize along some other principle. Overby, Kazee, and Prince (2004) use a 45-chamber dataset to regress the proportion of clearly outlying committees on variables including professionalization, region, the number of committees, partisan majority, the relative power of committees and parties, minority control over its appointments, and the effective number of parties. They find, essentially, that the proportion of outliers is unpredictable. The only significant variable in their regressions is the relative power variable. Prince and Overby (2005) make a similar finding for state senates. Looking only at the proportion of committees differing from their chamber at a 0.05 level of significance discards information in two ways. First, a legislature with all of its committees significant at 0.06 will appear the same as a legislature with no committee differing at a 0.50 level of significance.1 More generally, using a 0.05 level of significance to determine outliers imposes a very strict limit; only the most outlying committees will be caught. It is likely their results would differ if they had examined the proportions of committees unrepresentative at the 0.10, 0.20, or 0.25 level of significance. second, an aggregate, chamber-level analysis ignores any possible variation across jurisdictions.

This article offers a simple informal theory of legislative institutions highlighting some of the "usual suspects" from both the state legislative and congressional literatures. Doing so allows a fuller test of theories and formal models developed primarily with an eye towards the U. …

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