Who Wants Mr. Smith Anyway?

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Good ol’ Mr. Smith is sure taking it on the chin these days.

You remember the citizen legislator from the black and white celluloid days. Jimmy Stewart played him – a kind of aw-shucks type who gained a seat in Congress. A man of the people, representing his constituents, bringing the legislative process to its knees until it responded to the will of the folks.

I wrote earlier about the proposal to shrink the Monroe County Legislature from 29 members to as few as 15.Republicans in control of that body, through the voice of President Wayne Zyra, said that it would diminish the local control of county government. He imagines 29 Mr. Smiths connecting with their local people, acting on their behalf.

And yet this idea of legislative might in government has gotten some bad press in recent days.

You may have read, heard and watched the parade of people who are coming out against a ballot measure in New York that would give more budget making authority to the state legislature.

Just listen to one of those in opposition – former Governor Mario Cuomo’s budget director: R. Wayne Diesel: "It’s better to have fiscal responsibility in the hands of one. Today, in the executive budget process, there is a focal point of accountability and that’s in the executive… To attempt to transfer accountability to 212 focal points simply can’t work. It dilutes accountability. It dilutes responsibility."

I’m sure that will swell with pride the chests of the 212 state Assembly and Senate members.

Heck the state Conservative Party released a statement that made legislators out to be much less like Mr. Smith do-gooders and much more like back-room wheelers and dealers.

On the county level, there have been complaints that the county executive’s office does far more policy setting for county government than do the lawmakers.

Carrie Andrews, a Democrat running for a legislative seat, said that there seems to be a kind of role reversal between the executive and the legislature. "According to the Monroe County Charter, the county legislature is supposed to be the appropriating, policy-determining body in Monroe County. What we have is actually the county executive who tends to set the policy course."

But another legislative candidate, Republican Alex Zapesochny, said perhaps people need to look at this in a slightly different way.

"If your belief is that we need strong leadership to adjust to the new kind of economy that we have right now, then maybe having a strong executive isn’t a bad thing," he said.

Maybe so. And maybe a budget drafted by an administration, rather than a deliberative body, is better.

But with everyone and their brother ripping down legislative bodies these days, it’s quite hard to hear comments by elected officials who say that local government is most responsive to the people.

No one seems to believe that nowadays.