Thursday, May 26, 2016

Legislator Professionalization in Latin America

Sarah Shair-Rosenfield and Alissandra T. Stoyan, "Constraining Executive Action: The Role of Legislator Professionalization in Latin America," Governance (early view, 2016). Gated.


What explains the failure of legislatures with strong constitutionally endowed powerto exert themselves over the executive in practice? We examine the role of legislator professionalization in strengthening the legislature’s ability to constrain executive action, conceptualizing legislator professionalization as prior legislative experience and prior professional work experience. We argue that more professionalized legislators, through the skill and knowledge they bring to the policymaking process from prior experience, will be better equipped to challenge executive authority. In a sample of four Latin American countries from 1990 through 2010, we find that legislatures are more likely to curb executive decree issuance when indiv idual legislators are stronglyprofessionalized, controlling for constitutional powers and several other partisan and political factors. Our findings suggest that legislatures composed of more professionalized legislators can constrain executive action, especially in the context of a unified political opposition in the legislature.

The key point here is that we talk a lot about how powerful the executive is, and how much decrees are issued in Latin America, but there is plenty going on under the surface that is counteracting the strong executive. What they show is that the characteristics of the legislators may in fact preemptively prevent decrees.

Our analyses indicate that, even controlling for a number of features that determine the legislative–executive balance of power in policymaking, legislator professionalization has a significant impact on the issuance of executive decrees. More specifically, greater legislator professionalization and prior experience can strengthen a unified opposition in the legislature, resulting in a reduction in the issuance of executive decrees. This confirms intuition derived from literature on the U.S. Congress that individual legislator characteristics are positively correlated with the legislature’s capacity to stymie executive attempts to interfere in or assert some control over the legislative agenda.

The first thing that popped into my head was the question of term limits. We hear a lot about presidential term limits, but very little about the legislature. Not long ago, Mexico reformed its legislative limits, which now allow 4 terms in the lower house starting in 2018. Given this analysis, then, we should gradually see more pushback against the Mexican president.

I don't know about other countries, but if you have scant opportunity for re-election, you cannot develop professionalism and therefore cannot be an effective block on executive power.


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