MOUNT VERNON — A voter guide in this newspaper about the Maine elections almost got tossed out until I flipped through it to discover three pages devoted entirely to listing candidates hoping to fill or refill a whopping 189 slots in our Legislature (35 in the Senate plus 154 in the House).

I was planning to take a nice long winter’s nap after the election was good and over, until I asked myself: Why so many for a small population of 1 million-plus? How come entire countries can be governed with one-fourth that many lawmakers?

How many of us right off the bat know what Senate district and House districts we live in? Not me – I had to look that up in the handy Maine Sunday Telegram insert, and no one can accuse Citizen Barbara of not being a good citizen and voting regularly.

Election yard signs seldom, if ever, list the district number, only the names of candidates along with their promises. My representative represents Maine House District 76, while my senator represents Maine Senate District 17.


When all 35 Senate and 154 House districts are traced on the map of Maine, you will find that the former start off from the roof of Maine (Senate District 1, Caribou and Madawaska) and pick up more districts going south until reaching Kittery (Senate District 35), at which point the opposite happens for the House districts. These travel up northward so that House District 1 is Kittery while the very last – John Martin’s Eagle Lake district – is No. 151. Who dreamed up this system?

We are legislatively top heavy when compared with other states. We are like an upside-down wedding cake: a tiny population with a bloated Legislature.

Consider that California, with 38 million residents – the largest population of any state by far (and larger than Canada’s) – gets by with only 120 lawmakers. That is about one for every 317,000 people. And as far as I can tell from this end of our continent, that state seems to be doing pretty well for itself. But if we had the same proportionality in the Pine Tree State, we would be getting by with four for the entire state – say, one senator and three representatives. Imagine the efficiencies! Maybe better not.

In Maine, every 6,350 of us have our very own lawmakers (Senate and House). In Oregon, the ratio is one for every 44,500 people.

A random selection of state legislatures shows disparities everywhere. North Dakota, with the same population as Washington, D.C., has 141. Louisiana, with 144 legislators, serves 4.5 million people. Illinois, with three times that population, has 177, while Arkansas, with a relatively small population of 3 million, manages with 135.

The nearly 20 million residents of New York state have 213 legislators. Arizona has 90 for over 6 million people. Alaska gets by with only 60 legislators for a population of 700,000 – or one for every 12,000 residents.

There must be something about New England’s climate that calls for top-heavy legislatures, as our neighbors in New Hampshire trump even Maine with a whopping 424.

Perhaps back in the olden days, when it was tough going by horse, buggy, boat and sled, it made sense in a Jeffersonian sort of way. He did, after all, envision a democracy based on an agrarian economy, whereby every few hundred farmers (not their wives, of course) had ample franchise.

This no longer makes sense: Twenty-four-hour news, Twitter, Facebook, cable news, print news, blogs and electronic media of all sorts now leapfrog over distance both physical and political. I can bother my representative or senator any time of day or night without hitching up the mare. So can you.


Why not reduce the Legislature to a reasonable number – say by half, nay even more?

Imagine the savings on what are now almost 200 salaries, per diem staffers, researchers, health benefits, law librarians, consultants, lobbyists and campaign financing. Consider how this would cut down on the metastasizing committees and countless meetings over minor issues.

Term limits in Maine were enacted in the end. We were able to bring efficiency to our school districts with consolidation without too much fuss; it should not be that hard to take shears to this body as well. Of course this would take, ahem, votes within that august body to go on a serious diet.

And while they are at it, why not insist that a new slim and trim Legislature rescind a woefully out-of-date law each time it enacts a new one? That could make everyone press “pause” before “enter.”

— Special to the Telegram

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