The events of the most recent election cycle have reminded me of the importance of what I believe to be one of the important governing principles established by our nation’s and state’s founding fathers.
When I sought election to office in 2006, one of the key components of my message to prospective voters was my opposition to efforts in the Legislature to increase State Representatives’ term of office to four years.
Currently, Oklahoma Representatives serve for two-year terms. I have observed that this makes the House of Representatives very responsive to the values of the people of Oklahoma. Each Representative must treat his constituents’ concerns with respect because the Representative knows he will be subject to a vote within a 24-month time period.
I also believe this is the reason that the House is likely to be the branch of the Legislature to generate new ideas for reform. Being forced to campaign for re-election every two years means the Representatives must talk to their constituents and listen to the latest ideas for change. This means that the House is more likely to sponsor these new ideas sooner rather than later.
The concept that the lower House of the Legislature (in this case, the House of Representatives) should be the closest to the people dates back many years and can be tied to the British governing principle where the lower House is known as the House of Commons and represents the values of regular citizens.
This important principle was copied by our nation’s founding fathers when they designed the lower House of the American Congress to be subject to re-election every two years. The writer of the 55th Federalist Paper (either Alexander Hamilton or James Madison) opined that it would be difficult for a member of the House of Representatives to dare to betray the trust committed to him by the voters within the short span of two years.
This policy was subsequently copied by our state’s founding fathers when they determined that members of the Oklahoma House of Representatives should stand for re-election every two years.
Also, much the same as our federal Congress, the Oklahoma Senate was designed to have longer serving terms because this policy insulates Senators from the sentiment of the moment and provides that they can afford to be a more deliberative legislative body.
The recent election cycle is a fantastic demonstration of the wisdom of our founding fathers. A historic number of Representatives were defeated this year because all the members of the federal House of Representatives were subject to re-election and because there was a significant consensus that Congress was not representing the values of the people. The Senate did not experience this same changeover because only a third of the Senators were eligible for re-election. Should Congress continue to not represent the values of the people, it is very likely that the leadership of the Senate will also change in upcoming years.
This is just one of many important and time tested principles that have been handed down to us through the years. Defending the application of this wise principle to Oklahoma governance became an important part of my desire to seek office in 2006. I am glad to report that after that election, efforts to change the terms of office of Oklahoma Representatives were abandoned. I believe this was in part because of the strong message sent by local voters.