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Outside Looking In Lobbyists' View on Civil Discourse in U.S. State Legislature

Origin of the Study: Washington State Studies

 

During the second term of office for Washington’s Secretary of State, Sam Reed, some serious concerns began to mount among seasoned observers of the Washington State legislature. These concerns regarded adherence to some well-established norms, rules, and customs supportive of civility, comity, and mutual respect – and the public display of these qualities – in the Evergreen State. Secretary Reed made a request to the Division of Governmental Studies and Services at his alma mater Washington State University for active assistance in conducting research among the state’s legislative community to assess the degree to which this concern for the well-being of the state legislative process was justified — and if justified, exploring what might be done to address it.

Origin of the Study: National Institute for Civil Discourse Connection

 

Word of the state legislative work being carried out in Washington reached the National Institute for Civil Discourse founded by Representative Gabby Giffords and located at the University of Arizona. Ted Celeste and Director of Research Rob Boatright at the NICD were working with over a dozen state legislatures and were interested in teaming with researchers at WSU in the collection of survey data from state legislators in states beyond Washington. A meeting of key actors was arranged at the annual meeting of the New England Political Science Association held in Providence, Rhode Island in April of 2017. Attending from the NICD were Ted Celeste and Rob Boatright and attending from the WSU-connected team were John Pierce (University of Kansas, founding Dean of the WSU College of Liberal Arts), William Schreckhise (University of Arkansas, WSU PhD in 1999), Christopher Simon (University of Utah, WSU PhD in 1997), and Nicholas Lovrich (WSU Regents Professor Emeritus in the School of Politics, Philosophy and Public Affairs). At that meeting it was agreed that survey data collected in Washington from state legislative lobbyists provided the most insightful information.

The target of 100 verified state legislative lobbyists (both physical addresses and email contact information) for each state (N = 5,000) was set; a combination of online and mail follow-up surveys was employed with a goal of collecting a minimum of 1,000 returns (20 per state). In several states some scholars known to be active in research on state-level politics were contacted to assess their interest in research collaboration. Several of these scholars expressed the desire to replicate the public events in Washington once the survey data were collected. A target of 30+ returns was established as a minimum for holding such an event during which the findings for one state legislature would be compared to those for the other 49 states. In 12 states this 30+ threshold was reached – Washington, Arkansas, Oregon, Idaho, Nevada, Kansas, Utah, Iowa, Illinois, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and California; in the end over 1,200 completed surveys (and many extended commentaries and follow-up email and phone calls) were obtained through online and mail surveys fielded in 2018 and 2019.

Next Steps:

 

The COVID-19 pandemic has occasioned the cancellation of events where the findings from the survey were to be shared with our two audiences in Kansas, California, Indiana, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Texas, and North Carolina. Likewise, the cancellation of two major academic conferences where our findings were to be shared at the State Policy and Politics Conference and at the roundtable on state politics at the annual meeting of the New England Political Science Association has resulted in the serious limitation of our efforts to disseminate the results of our three-year effort to explore the issue of civil discourse in the 50 U.S. state legislatures. The importance of this book, as a primary means of the timely dissemination of findings, is therefore magnified in the new setting of a national effort to stem the Corona Virus pandemic. It is hoped that the two important audiences we had in mind do make a connection to this work through the reading of this book. Should that reading lead to a desire to explore further the survey results and voluminous comments and commentaries offered by state legislative policy advocates in the reader’s own state, the reader is urged to contact any of the editors about gaining access to that archival information and discussing how an appropriate public affairs education event might be arranged in their home state.