For Connecticut’s state legislators, Election Day is almost always just around the corner. The Nutmeg State is one of just 14 states where legislators in both the state House and Senate serve two year terms, beginning in January after their election and concluding (for General Session purposes, anyway) until the next year’s May.
This rapid-fire cycle turns the life of a legislator into a blurry mishmash of legislative sessions, constituent service, and near-permanent campaigning. Advocates for such a cycle assert that it makes legislators much more responsive because they must always be sensitive to the demands of the residents in their districts.
But most of the views on the subject have been shaped by assumptions and theories rather than research. Recent scholarship suggests a much different conclusion: longer term lengths produce better legislators.
Academics Ernesto Dal Bo and Martin Rossi studied this topic in the context of a natural experiment in the Argentine House of Representatives and Senate as each body implemented electoral reforms that saw some legislators randomly assigned shorter terms while others served longer terms.
Their conclusion was striking: “Shorter terms appear to worsen performance not due to campaign distractions but due to an investment logic. When returns to effort are not immediate, shorter terms dampen incentives to exert effort.”
Longer terms make public service more attractive to more highly-qualified candidates. At a time when Connecticut’s state government need the very best people working hard to fix the state’s fiscal mess, such evidence should be the impetus for action.
Legislators would be well-advised to consider change the Connecticut Constitution to allow for longer terms. Many legislatures, including the U.S. Congress, have reached a compromise between too-long and too-short by adopting a little of both.
Connecticut could do the same by expanding the term of State Senators to four years while maintaining the two year term for State Representatives. Twenty-seven other states, including California, Texas, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Michigan follow this same model. It would serve Connecticut’s interests equally well.
Minnesota and New Jersey also include provisions for redistricting so that State Senators serve for a two year term and then stand for re-election in the redrawn district. This too would be a provision worthy of strong consideration by the legislature.
Elections are an important accountability tool, but when they are an omnipresent factor in a person’s schedule, they serve as a deterrent to entering politics in the first place. Coupled with legislative term limits, this reform would improve the quality of legislators while still maintaining the citizen-statesman composition of the organization.
Heath W. Fahle is a policy analyst and consultant based in Manchester. His background in political campaigns includes work for former U.S. Rep. Rob Simmons and the Connecticut Republican Party. He also is the principal of Revolutionary Strategies LLC, a Web site design and consulting firm. Learn more at www.heathwfahle.com