Representative pushes for parliamentary government

Erin Ghere

A University-area representative will introduce a proposal that could change the face of Minnesota government if approved by voters next winter.
State Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, said she will introduce a bill next legislative session to make Minnesota’s government a parliamentary system — eliminating the executive branch of government. If passed by the Legislature, the bill would need to be approved by Minnesotans next November because it would require amending Minnesota’s constitution.
“I think we have a pretty good system,” Kahn said, “but if we’re going to discuss a unicameral system, then this is what we really should talk about.”
Kahn announced her proposal in mid-October after Gov. Jesse Ventura began his campaign to allow Minnesotans to vote for a one-house Legislature next winter.
While Kahn said she likes the government the way it is, if any changes are going to be made, she said a parliamentary system would be more effective than a unicameral one.
Kahn’s bill would go further than Ventura’s by suggesting the Legislature should allow voters to decide if they want to abolish the executive branch of government entirely.
Under a parliamentary system, which has not been tried in any other U.S. state, the majority party of an elected legislative branch would choose an executive out of their party.
In a presidential system, both the legislators and the president are elected by the people.
If approved by the voters, Kahn’s amendment would create a single-house Legislature with 135 members; establish a four-year maximum legislative term; require legislators to elect a governor; and eliminate the executive as an independent branch of government.
Under the proposed system, legislative leaders could call a vote of no confidence if the governor loses a major vote in the Legislature. Because the governor would be from the same party as the majority of legislators, the loss of a major vote would signal a desire for reform. Political campaigns would be short because the elections would be sudden.
“It’s a very novel idea,” said Virginia Gray, a University political science professor. But it “would be very difficult to change from the system we have now to the parliamentary system.”
Although Rep. Peggy Leppik, R-Golden Valley, wouldn’t comment further on the proposed bill, she lived under the Canadian parliamentary system for several years and said it is substantially different from the presidential system.
Senate president and former University history professor Alan Spear said the Legislature wouldn’t pass the bill.
“If unicameral has an outside chance, I think this one is in Siberia,” he said.
A change to a parliamentary system could have several results. The system makes divided government, which often slows the legislative process, said Steve Smith, another University political science professor.
Minnesota currently has a thrice-divided government, with a Republican House, Democratic Senate and Reform governor.
But a parliamentary system would also forfeit the principle of checks and balances as the executive and the Legislature would be one.
“I don’t think it fits in with the American idea,” Spear said.
In addition, Smith said a parliamentary system makes legislators more accountable to voters. Under the presidential system, it is often hard for voters to “punish” two parties at the polls, even though both might be dissatisfying, he said.

Erin Ghere covers faculty and state government and welcomes comments at [email protected] She can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3217.