Ventura pushes for unicameral Legislature

Erin Ghere

Gov. Jesse Ventura began a campaign Tuesday to offer Minnesota voters an option on the November 2000 ballot to change the state Legislature’s structure.
But some University professors question how politically viable the proposal is.
University political science professor Steve Smith said he doesn’t think Ventura’s proposal has a good chance of passing because there is no general sense that the state government is “broken.” As a result, Smith said there will be little public pressure, and the majority of state legislators will probably oppose the measure.
Ventura is pushing for legislators to approve putting a constitutional amendment on the 2000 ballot that would shift Minnesota’s state government from a two-house, partisan body to a one-house, nonpartisan one.
“The people are not satisfied with politics as usual, and they deserve the opportunity to vote on whether to make the change to a nonpartisan, single-house system,” Ventura said.
Ventura gave speeches calling for legislators’ support at four out-state cities Tuesday — Duluth, Rochester, Mankato and Moorhead — before returning to St. Paul for some final comments on the Capitol steps.
He even threatened legislators who do not support the voters’ right to choose their government.
“I will work hard against the legislators who won’t let the people decide,” he said, later vowing to oppose the re-election of any legislators who deny people a vote on the issue.
His plan is to create a 135-seat Legislature beginning in the year 2003. Legislators would run without party labels and on their own merits without committing to a party platform.
Minnesota currently has 201 legislators: 134 representatives and 67 senators. Their party affiliation is placed under their name on election ballots. From 1913 to 1974, the party was not placed on the ballot.
Other legislators are split on the issue, including House and Senate leaders.
House Speaker Steve Sviggum, R-Kenyon, supports the change and said it would make for more accountable legislators, he said Tuesday on Minnesota Public Radio.
On the other hand, Senate majority leader Roger Moe, DFL-Erskine, has traditionally been opposed to the idea, saying it would mean fewer elected officials to deal with the same number of constituents’ needs.
Moe will be instrumental in the 2000 Legislature’s decision on Ventura’s proposal because he is the chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, which has control over what bills reach the Senate floor for a vote.
Ventura said a unicameral government will make politicians more accountable, save the state $20 million each year and make it easier for citizens to participate in government.
But Smith said there is no concrete evidence either way.
“There is no solid argument pro or con as to whether we have a better government with a unicameral or a bicameral Legislature,” he said.
Smith said most proponents of a one-body Legislature see improvements similar to Ventura’s. But he said those in favor of the bicameral system say when legislation goes through two governmental bodies the public has more time to realize what is being considered. He also said there is a better chance all people’s interests will be weighed.
“With the slower process,” Smith said, “people avoid hasty policy choices.”
Ventura said he would make the constitutional amendment one of his top legislative priorities. Nebraska is the only state in the country to have a unicameral Legislature, but nearly 25 other states have looked into the possibility.