Oklahoma Politics & Policies: Governing the Sooner State

By David R. Morgan; Robert E. England et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER SIX
The Oklahoma Legislature

Under our representative form of government, legislative bodies are lawmaking institutions above all. They do other things as well, of course: they represent the people in a variety of ways; they may investigate charges of wrongdoing among state agencies or departments; they serve as a forum for discussing important policies and programs; they may provide some oversight of the state's administration not only through hearings and investigations, but by conducting post-audits of program outcomes; and finally, they may serve in a judicial capacity if impeachment proceedings are initiated against a governor or other official subject to such proceedings. Legislators also represent their districts and constituents at the capitol, particularly to influence the bureaucracy on behalf of constituents. In short, legislatures, sometimes referred to as the first branch of government, play an indispensable role in shaping state policy and influencing a wide range of public and private activities.

Despite their vital role in lawmaking, legislative bodies are often criticized for raising taxes, spending the public's money foolishly, or otherwise passing laws some groups oppose. During the late 1960s the Citizens Conference on State Legislatures conducted the most comprehensive comparative study of state legislatures to date. In its 1971 report the conference pointed to a variety of problems plaguing state legislatures. The most important were (1) poor organization and lack of staff; (2) a weak, ill-defined public image; and (3) constitutional constraints that prevent legislatures from meeting in order to act on important issues. The Citizens Conference concluded that the states' assemblies were a "drag" on the nation's political system and in need of "thorough institutional reform." In fact, the conference labeled state leg-

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