Resurgence of the Kentucky Legislature
Kentucky's General Assembly, like all others, makes the rules--from speed limits to tax rates, from pollution controls to grounds for divorce. Kentucky's legislature has at times been the captive of giant railroads, the handmaiden to strong governors, and the scene of radical debates. It has engaged in as much conflict, and changed more times and more drastically, than either of the other branches of government. No change has been greater than that of the last several decades.1 The General Assembly has become again what it was in the beginning, a place where public policy is truly made. But it has also become what it had never been, a place where independent, professional, analytical decisions are made.
The General Assembly operates in a historically traditionalistic political culture. No institutionalization of that culture has been more pronounced than gubernatorial domination of the legislative system, until the last decade. Three decades ago, Kentucky's General Assembly was one of the weakest in the country vis-à-vis the governor. Various forces of modernization and change have gradually produced a shift. For many years the legislature was characterized by amateur members, very short sessions, and very little staff assistance. The legislature was willing to let the governor handpick its leadership, and it usually rubber-stamped the governor's budget without asking any questions or making any changes.
Kentucky's legislature remains, in some respects, less powerful and professional than the average state legislature; however, with increasing tenure of its members, the strength of its new committee system, the effectiveness of its budgetary review, and its current independence from the governor, the General Assembly has changed as much as that of any state.2 That something important has happened would be clear to any observer. The change could be