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CHAPTER 6 Candidates and Organizational Change Much of the strength and efficiency of any government in procuring and securing happiness to the people, depends on opinion, on the general opinion of the goodness of the Government, as well as of the wisdom and integrity of its Governors. -Benjamin Franklin, at the close of the Constitutional Convention One of the enduring features of the U.S. Congress is its capacity to adapt internally to new political trends while retaining substantial continuity with the past. A dynamic institution, Congress is constantly in a state of flux, even though at any given time it may seem firmly wedded to the status quo. l This mix of rejuvenation and reaction has intrigued several generations of scholars and has sparked competing explanations about the nature of organizational change inside the nation's legislature. One school traces change to periodic electoral shocks that flood the institution with large numbers of freshmen members. The other school sees change as an ongoing process inside Congress in response to external pressures from a variety of political actors. Neither side has been able to establish whether institutional change is caused primarily by the transformation of the membership or by disturbances in the political environment, a scholarly stalemate that cannot be resolved, in my view, without considerably more understanding about how congressional candidates operate in the American system. Candidacy is most important, of course, to the turnover interpretation of organizational change. According to this hypothesis, when voters remove a sizeable percentage of incumbents from office, they intentionally send representatives to Washington who have very different expectations than their predecessors. The newcomers bring this rejection of the status quo into the party caucuses and committee rooms and through sheer force of numbers compel the institution to adapt to their presence. By initiating the causal sequence that leads to I. This theme was struck by Ralph K. Huitt (1969) in an essay celebrating the continuity and change in Congress. 153 154 Candidates, Congress. and the American Democracy organizational restructuring, the new-style legislators become the instruments of reform. Their motivations in running for Congress and their objectives once in office become key variables in the analysis of change. Therefore, scholars who pursue this line of explanation typically devote a good deal of time to demonstrating how and why the new lawmakers constitute a distinctive group. The environmental school of congressional adaptation posits a different set of motivations behind institutional reform. In this view, it is not the members and their goals that change but their ability to realize their ambitions. Because structural alterations are costly, individual lawmakers need powerful personal incentives to overturn the status quo; in effect, they accept prevailing institutional arrangements as long as they can satisfy their objectives of reelection, influence, and public policy. What upsets the institutional equilibrium is pressure from citizens, interest groups, or the executive branch rather than electoral upheaval. The escalation of outside demands on the institution , the argument goes, makes it increasingly difficult for members to satisfy their goals. Legislators eventually find maintaining the status quo more costly than overcoming institutional inertia, and they develop new methods of doing business to meet these external challenges . From this perspective on reform, the scholars' task is to demonstrate where the outside pressures come from and how the resulting reforms address them. Candidates are not critical here, except in their role as potential replacements for incumbents who retire or fail to see the necessity of institutional change. But scholars operating in this mode of analysis make assumptions about what members of Congress want from their service inside the institution, and they have framed member goals in terms of lengthy political careers. In this respect, the environmental explanation of change depends on members having an investment in Congress that they want to protect, even though the origin and maintenance of such professional instincts are seldom considered . What had been an abstract discussion among scholars about the nature of causality in legislative institutions suddenly became a nationwide , partisan debate when term limitations erupted as an issue. Proponents claimed that term limits would inject a steady stream of new members into the nation's legislatures and that these new members would keep the institution vital and responsive to evolving public needs. They further argued that term limits would undermine careerism among lawmakers, so that elected representatives would be more concerned with important issues and less preoccupied with protecting Candidntes and Organizational Change 155 their seats and their positions. Opponents, on the...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780472022618
Related ISBN
9780472064731
MARC Record
OCLC
646069082
Pages
240
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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