Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Bigger Is Sometimes Better for Largest US Legislature Series: Having 400 Representatives Means Many Difficulties in Getting Things Done.; 3) SPEAKER BURNS: Since 1/3 of House Members Are New Every Two Years, Government Stays Focused on People., PHOTOS BY MARK FADER

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Bigger Is Sometimes Better for Largest US Legislature Series: Having 400 Representatives Means Many Difficulties in Getting Things Done.; 3) SPEAKER BURNS: Since 1/3 of House Members Are New Every Two Years, Government Stays Focused on People., PHOTOS BY MARK FADER

Article excerpt

WHEN New Hampshire's Legislature is in session, state representatives enjoy the advantages and disadvantages of a truly full House.

Here on the crowded House floor, seats are jammed so close together it is sometimes comical. In one row, four men stand up to allow a woman room to squeeze past them to her seat. Two seconds later, she's up once more, causing the same four to scramble to their feet again. Another legislator, also trapped in mid-row, decides the cleanest exit is to simply vault backwards over his chair into the open aisle.

With all its 400 members, New Hampshire has the distinction of having the largest legislature of any in the United States - and the fourth largest in the English-speaking world, says state Rep. Cliff Below (D) who has done a study on the issue.

When it comes to representation, this small state with a population of only 1.1 million wins the prize. Among the other states, Pennsylvania's House, at 203 members, comes in second. Highly populated states don't even begin to compare: California's state Assembly has 80 members, New York's state Assembly has 150, and Texas' House of Representatives has 150.

New Hampshire's House, known as a "citizen legislature," comes from a tradition of strong local government. But for many here, the large-size Legislature is a mixed blessing.

On the one hand, lawmakers enjoy a close relationship to constituents; the ratio is approximately 1 representative per 2,773 people. On the other hand, getting things done in such a large body can be cumbersome.

"One problem is just getting to know people," says Representative Below, who was elected in 1992. "It has taken 1 1/2 years {for me} just to get up to speed in terms of knowing who the players are."

But strong citizen participation is considered a plus in this Legislature where few "career politicians" take refuge. That's because representatives are paid only $100 a year and have either full-time jobs or are retired.

In fact, approximately half of the members are retired, which is double the rate of any other state. The average age for a representative is 58.

Women are also highly represented, with 33 percent of the House membership female, the fourth highest percentage of any lower house in the country. …

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