SOA Symposium 2024

"Legislators and Academics in Partnership​"

June 21, 2024

aw School Building

State Oversight Academy Symposium

Last year, the State Oversight Academy’s symposium connected scholars who study state legislatures with practitioners who serve as elected state lawmakers or as legislative staff. This year, we took the same concept a step further: Equipped with this scholarly research, how can practitioners put these facts into practice to improve oversight in state legislatures?

The online event began with last year’s popular practitioner and scholars in dialogue format followed by a roundtable, in which scholars and practitioners discussed how to put research into practice! Scholars and practitioners joined us to collaborate on these issues and work together to enhance legislative oversight practices and research in the field.

Speakers and Papers

Partisan Departures from the Administrative States


Benjamin Goehring
PhD Candidate, Department of Political Science and Ford School of Public Policy, University of Michigan

Abstract: The 20th Century saw widespread adoption of civil service regimes at all levels of government across the United States. These protections insulate employees from politically-motivated hirings, terminations, and demotions, allowing them to invest in developing expertise while also making them difficult to remove. In more recent decades, efforts have been made to roll back these protections at both the state and federal levels. Most notably, President Trump attempted to reclassify tens of thousands of senior civil servants into a new, unclassified Schedule F designation at the end of his term—promising to renew the effort if reelected in 2024. In this paper, I examine whether executives use the opportunity provided by the rollback of civil service protections to remove opponents from the bureaucracy. I study this in the context of U.S. state bureaucracies, a large and relatively understudied set of institutions. Using a new dataset containing the voter and personnel records of nearly one million government employees in 11 states, I first describe the partisan composition of U.S. state government. Among other findings, I show that southern, Republican-controlled states are disproportionately staffed by registered Democrats. I then turn to a case of civil service retrenchment in Mississippi—–where six agencies were temporarily exempted from the state’s merit system between 2014 and 2020— to test whether removing bureaucrats’ job protections increases turnover among outpartisan civil servants. I demonstrate that although removing protections led to large increases in the number of terminations (171% to 634%), there is no evidence that Democratic civil servants were more likely to depart than their Republican colleagues.

Reviewed by:

Ted Booth
Executive Director and Staff Counsel at PEER Mississippi (Joint Legislative Committee on Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review)

A Theory of Proactive Casework at the State Level as a Means of Bridging Access Gaps in the Provision of Constituent Services


Megan Rickman Blackwood
PhD Candidate, Department of Political Science, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Abstract: Constituent service, particularly casework, serves as a key component of representation and accountability by allowing elected officials to provide support and advocacy for constituents who are experiencing problems navigating state bureaucracies. Standing models on the provision of constituent service, which I refer to as the Reactive Casework Model (RCM), rely exclusively on the constituent to act as the first mover by contacting their representative to request services. I propose a Proactive Casework Theory (PCT), arguing that the proactive provision of constituent services, rather than the reactive provision of these same services, has far-reaching implications for the number and characteristics of constituents that receive these vital services. Further, under the PCT, elected officials can increase trust in governmental institutions, decrease polarization and negative affect, and increase participation, thereby reducing disparities that lead to well-established knowledge, efficacy, income, and, racial gaps.

Partnering with the office of Del. Sam Rasoul of Virginia’s House of Delegates 38th District, I conducted an exploratory case study to serve as a proving ground for PCT. Initial results comparing results from three months of observations collected under the RCM to three months of observations generated with the PCT trial show that PCT results in a 5474.19 percent increase in contacts, and a 25 percent increase in casework requests that represent marginalized people.

Reviewed by:

Margaret Buck
Legislative Aide, Office of Nebraska State Senator Machaela Cavanaugh

Legislative Capacity and Regulatory Compliance: Evidence from the Opioid Epidemic


Dr. Srinivas “Chinnu” Parinandi
Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Colorado Boulder

Abstract: We argue that endowing legislatures with greater resources for policy design and oversight can improve regulatory compliance. The argument is applied to opioid mortality in the US, a public health crisis driven in part by regulatory dereliction: the failure of states to limit irresponsible distribution of opioid pain relievers. We explain the governance roots of the crisis and predict a negative relationship between overdose mortality and legislative capacity. Statistical analyses show increasing legislative capacity is associated with lower opioid mortality, and that the relationship is compounding with regulatory work force, suggesting enforcement agents are more effective under strong legislatures. Placebo tests on other “deaths of despair” resulting from alcohol and suicide, which have similar behavioral or societal correlates to opioid mortality but should not be infuenced by regulatory regimes, are uncorrelated with legislative capacity, lending credibility to our interpretation. We conclude with implications for research in the US and abroad.

Reviewed by:

Rep. David Orentlicher
Nevada State Representative, Professor of Law at University of Nevada Las Vegas William S. Boyd School of Law

Filibustering in the American States


Dr. Jim Curry
Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Utah

Rob Oldham
PhD Candidate, Princeton University

Abstract: The 60-vote filibuster is a key institution in the United States Senate. Most winning coalitions require 60 votes, effectively giving veto power to a minority of senators. But do supermajoritarian debate rules necessarily translate into minority veto power? We examine this in state legislatures, where there is far more variation in whether chamber rules require a majority or a supermajority of legislators to cut-off debate. Across multiple analyses and data sources, we fail to find systematic evidence that formal supermajority rules are associated with important variables, including news coverage of actual obstruction, the size of enacting coalitions, and the success of major proposals. We argue that the lack of a regular translation from formal rules to actual behavior is at least partially the result of legislature-specific norms that affect members’ understanding of how they “should” be using the rules.

Reviewed by:

Jim Townsend
Director, Levin Center for Oversight and Democracy
Former Michigan Representative (26th District)

Roundtable Participants

State Sen. John Arch
Speaker of the Legislature, Nebraska

State Rep. Ben Bowman
House Majority Leader, Oregon

Dr. Srinivas “Chinnu” Parinandi
Associate Professor, Department of Political Science,
University of Colorado Boulder

Marjorie Sarbaugh-Thompson headshot

Dr. Marjorie Sarbaugh-Thompson
Professor, Department of Political Science,
Wayne State University,
SOA Academic Director

SOA Oversight Leader

We recognized our inaugural SOA Oversight Leader, Rhode Island State Representative Patricia Serpa! She has been the chairwoman of the House Oversight Committee since 2016.

For more information on Rep. Serpa and the Oversight Leaders program, visit the website below.