“Experts, Amateurs, and Bureaucratic Influence in the American States”(with Graeme Boushey). Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, N.d. (forthcoming).
- Winner of the 2015 State Politics and Policy Quarterly Award for best paper on state politics and policy presented at any professional meeting.
This paper examines the delegation of policymaking authority to administrative agencies in the United States. Drawing upon a large data set of proposed and adopted regulations issued by state governments from 1990 through 2010, we explore whether differences in the policy expertise of elected officials and bureaucrats shape the preferences of state legislatures when choosing to delegate policymaking authority to the bureaucracy. Specifically, we argue that as the gap between executive and legislative compensation increases in a state, the legislature both delegates and abdicates more, leading to increased policymaking volume by the state bureaucracy. We find robust evidence for such a relationship and illustrate the importance for this finding in the context of recent and recurring debates concerning institutional reform.
“The Marginality Hypothesis and Supreme Court Confirmation Votes in the Senate” (with James Rydberg). Congress & the Presidency, N.d. (forthcoming).
Studies of Supreme Court confirmations have found that a senator’s vote is primarily determined by her ideological proximity to a nominee and that nominee’s objective qualifications. While this literature recognizes that vote choice is affected by additional individual and environment factors, it largely does not account for the extent to which a senator’s electoral safety may enhance or mitigate the effects of ideology and qualifications. We argue that senators from less competitive states are more free from constituency constraints than are their counterparts who expect more competitive electoral contests. These less electorally marginal senators are therefore more likely to eschew a nominee’s qualifications in favor of their own ideological preferences. On the other hand, closer electoral marginality should increase the effect of qualifications, which are invariably of interest to constituents. By analyzing roll call data on confirmation votes from Byron White to Elena Kagan, we support these arguments and add an intriguing new piece to the puzzle of the changing dynamics of Senate confirmation voting.
“Directing Discipline: State Medical Board Responsiveness to State Legislatures” (with Denise F. Lillvis). Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law, N.d. (forthcoming).
State medical boards are increasingly responsible for regulating medical and osteopathic licensure and professional conduct in the United States. Yet, there is great variation in the extent to which such boards take disciplinary action against physicians, indicating that some boards are more zealous regulators than others. We look to the political roots of such variation and seek to answer a simple, yet important, question: are nominally apolitical state medical boards responsive to political preferences? To address this question, we use panel data on disciplinary actions across 65 state medical boards from 1993-2006 and control for over-time changes in board characteristics (e.g., composition, independence, budgetary status), regulatory structure, and resources. We show that as state legislatures become more liberal [conservative], state boards increasingly [decreasingly] discipline physicians, especially during unified government and in the presence of highly professional legislatures. Our conclusions join others in emphasizing the importance of state medical boards and the contingent nature of political control of state regulation. In addition, we emphasize the roles that oversight capacity and strategy play in offsetting concerns regarding self-regulation of a powerful organized interest.
“Retrospective Congressional Oversight and the Dynamics of Legislative Influence over the Bureaucracy” (with Jason A. MacDonald). Legislative Studies Quarterly, N.d. (forthcoming).
Research stresses that congressional committees increase their oversight of the bureaucracy during divided government. We extend this research by developing an explanation, rooted in a more dynamic view of policymaking, for why Congress would sometimes conduct vigorous oversight under unified control as well. In short, committees seem to engage in what we call “retrospective oversight” and take advantage of newly friendly executive administration to refocus existing policy made under a past opposition president. We assess our perspective using two separate sources of data on oversight hearings spanning more than sixty years and find support for our claims regarding retrospective oversight.
“Congress as Manager: Oversight Hearings and Agency Morale” (with John D. Marvel). Journal of Public Policy, N.d. (forthcoming).
Federal agencies perform many important tasks, from guarding against terrorist plots to mailing social security checks. A key question is whether Congress can effectively manage such a large and influential bureaucracy. We argue that Congress, in using oversight to ensure agency responsiveness to legislative preferences, risks harming agency morale, which could have negative long-run effects on performance and the implementation of public policy. More specifically, we argue that oversight’s effects on agency morale are conditional on whether oversight is adversarial or friendly. We assess our claims using a novel dataset of the frequency and tone of hearings in which federal agencies are called to testify before Congress from 1999-2011 and merge it with data on agency autonomy and job satisfaction. Our findings suggest that agency morale is sensitive to congressional oversight attention and thus speak to questions regarding democratic accountability, congressional policymaking, and the implementation of public policy.
“Veto Override Requirements and Executive Success” (with Jon C. Rogowski and Josh M. Ryan). Political Science Research and Methods, N.d. (forthcoming).
Presidential systems around the world vary in the proportion of legislators required to override an executive veto. We argue that the nature of the override provision affects executive influence in policymaking; as the proportion needed to override a veto increases, so should executive influence. We leverage varying override requirements across the U.S. states to conduct a comparative study of executive influence over budgetary outcomes. Using governors’ budget requests and enacted appropriations for fiscal years 1987-2011, we provide evidence that state legislatures better accommodate budgetary requests in states with higher override requirements. Further, governors whose preferences are extreme relative to the legislature are more likely to have their budgetary goals met in states with a higher veto threshold.
“Constraining a Shadowy Future: Enacting APAs in Parliamentary Systems”
(with Jeeyang Rhee Baum and Christian B. Jensen). Legislative Studies Quarterly, Vol. 41, No. 2. (May, 2016), pp. 471-499.
Single-party parliamentary governments often have no institutional checks on their authority. Such governments can pass and implement policies constrained only by the need to maintain party loyalty and win elections. Literature on delegation suggests that such governments would never adopt reforms such as Administrative Procedures Acts (APAs) that are designed to constrain this freedom. Nevertheless, such governments do pass APAs: Greece, Portugal, Romania, Spain, and Sweden have all done so in the past thirty years. We argue that the possibility of losing power motivates parliamentary governments, both single-party and coalition, to trade current policy loss for future gain with APAs.
“Gubernatorial Veto Powers and the Size of Legislative Coalitions” (with Jon C. Rogowski and Josh M. Ryan). Legislative Studies Quarterly, Vol. 40, No. 4 (November, 2015), pp. 571-598.
As the key mechanism supporting policy bargaining between executives and legislatures, few political institutions are as central to theories of lawmaking as the executive veto. Despite its importance, institutional continuity at the national level has precluded identification of empirical effects of the veto on legislative behavior. We address this limitation and present evidence from the states demonstrating how the veto affects the formation of legislative coalitions and gubernatorial influence over policymaking. First, we evaluate how the addition of the veto in North Carolina in 1997 affected legislative voting patterns. Second, we leverage across state variation in veto override requirements to identify their effects on legislative coalition sizes in the 1999-2000 legislative sessions. We find consistent evidence that the presence and strength of gubernatorial veto powers affect the lawmaking behavior of state legislatures. Our analysis shows how institutional provisions condition executives’ ability to affect policy outcomes in separation of powers systems.
“Legislatures, Courts, and Statutory Control of the Bureaucracy across the U.S. States.” State Politics and Policy Quarterly, Vol. 13, No. 3 (September, 2013), pp. 373-397.
How do state legislatures use statutory language to control policy implementation by state agencies? In this article, I consider—in a specific policy area and time period—the extent to which this decision is affected by legislative anticipation of the likely actions of state courts. Previous literature has argued that the legislative use of statutory language to control bureaucrats varies with the availability of nonstatutory methods of control, but it does not explicitly consider the potential role of courts. My expectations are derived from a simple formal model of executive–legislative relations and are supported when I test them using data on the number of words added to a state’s Medicaid laws from 1995 to 1996. In particular, I find that state legislatures write longer, more constraining, statutes when the likelihood that state courts intervene on their behalf is neither very high nor very low.
“Congressional Oversight Hearings and Policy Control.” Legislative Studies Quarterly, Vol. 38, No. 3 (August, 2013), pp. 349-376.
Oversight hearings should be an important congressional tool for controlling recalcitrant agencies, but it is not clear that this should always be equally true. The logic of principal-agent models of legislative policy control implies that oversight might sometimes, but not always, be superfluous to said control. Here, I reintroduce oversight hearings to theories of policy control and argue that congressional committees conduct oversight hearings primarily as a response to the extent to which agencies have different policy preferences from them and as a function of their capacity to conduct hearings cheaply. I test these hypotheses using committee hearings data (Policy Agendas Project) from both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate from 1947 to 2006 and provide support for theoretical arguments about the institutional nature of legislative policymaking strategies and ultimately help clarify the role of oversight in legislative-executive relations.
“The Rise and Fall of Radical Civil Service Reform in the U.S. States.” Public Administration Review, Vol. 73, No. 4 (July/August, 2013), pp. 638-649.
Initiated by a 1996 Georgia statute, “radical” civil service reform quickly swept the United States. This article explains the wax and eventual wane of state efforts to increase the number of at-will employees at the expense of the population of fully protected merit system employees. Using an event history approach to explain this policy diffusion with state-level variables, the author shows that electoral competition and gubernatorial powers are the most significant determinants of this kind of policy diffusion. Whereas previous literature concluded that these reforms ceased spreading because the new programs were failing to create the promised governmental efficiency, this article argues that the institutional conditions for these human resource management policies have been less propitious in recent years. The article signifies an important contribution in that it brings civil service reform back into the scope of policy diffusion literature and identifies political insights into a perpetually important question.
“Making Rules About Rulemaking: A Comparison of Presidential and Parliamentary Systems”(with Christian B. Jensen). Political Research Quarterly, Vol. 64, No. 3 (September, 2011), pp. 656-667.
The authors examine the administrative procedures acts (APAs) of separation of powers and parliamentary systems. They examine sixteen national APAs (thirteen parliamentary and three presidential) and forty-eight APAs from the U.S. states that have institutional structures analogous to the presidential systems. They identify a very stark difference between the parliamentary and presidential APAs. While all of the presidential system APAs place constraints on both adjudicative and rulemaking activities, only two of the parliamentary APAs make any reference to rulemaking at all. The authors present an institutional explanation for this observation based on recent work on veto players and delegated discretion to administrative agents. They argue that the presence of partisan veto players discourages focus on rulemaking in APAs.
“Electoral Competition and the Frequency of Initiative Use in the U.S. States.” American Politics Research, Vol. 39, No. 3 (April, 2011), pp. 638-649.
To what extent has direct democracy, specifically the ballot initiative process, served to substitute for perceived deficiencies of representative democracy in the United States? Despite extensive literatures on both direct democracy and democratic representation, there exist very few direct evaluations of the interplay between the two. I examine whether variation in the frequency of a state’s initiative use is related to the extent to which that state’s representative institutions lack electoral competition. I find that initiative states with a higher percentage of uncontested elections for representative office see more initiative use than states with more competitive elections, conditional on the ideological divergence between citizens and legislators. The results contribute much to our understanding of the processes driving cycles of initiative use and identify a tangible consequence of the presence of misrepresentative state institutions.
The Power of Institutional Design: Governors, Vetoes, and Legislative Outcomes
(with Jon C. Rogowski and Josh M. Ryan) in The American Governor: Power, Constraint, and Leadership in the States, ed. David P. Redlawsk. 2015. New York, NY: Palgrave MacMillan.
Because they possess few formal powers, governors’ influence over policymaking emerges through their negotiations with state legislatures. In this chapter, we highlight the role of the gubernatorial veto in structuring bargaining environments between governors and legislatures. We focus specifically on how the number of legislators required to override a veto affects the legislative process. While many states have a two-thirds requirement, others possess a three-fifths or simple majority veto override. We provide a theoretical framework that relates these requirements to the policymaking process, and develop hypotheses to draw implications about the scope of gubernatorial influence. The theory and empirical findings demonstrate that large veto override requirements provide significant institutional advantages to governors in achieving their desired policies.
Review of James M. Curry‘s Legislating in the Dark: Information and Power in the House of Representatives (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2015), for the Journal of Politics, Vol. 78, No. 2 (April 2016).
Manuscripts under Review
“A Race for the Regs: Unified Government, Statutory Deadlines, and Federal Agency Rulemaking.” Under review (with Jason A. MacDonald)
Theory suggests that Congress should delegate more policymaking authority to the bureaucracy under unified government, where lawmakers are less worried about the president orchestrating “agency drift.” Yet, all unified governments come to an end, making broad delegations potentially advantageous to future lawmaking coalitions (“coalitional drift”). We seek to assess how lawmakers simultaneously limit the risk of each of these pitfalls of delegation. Our answer is rooted in Congress’s ability to spur agency rulemaking activity, especially when it is well-positioned to affect regulatory content under unified government. Specifically, we expect statutes passed under unified government to require agencies to issue regulations quickly and for enacting coalitions to use oversight tools to influence agency policy choices. Such “proximate oversight” allows coalitions to cement policy decisions before a new election changes the configuration of preferences within Congress and the executive branch. To assess our argument, we test the prediction that agencies will issue regulations mandated by laws more quickly under unified government using data culled from the Unified Agenda of Federal Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions from 1996 through 2011.
“The Gift of Gridlock: Divided Government, Bureaucratic Autonomy, and the Politics of Rulemaking in the American States” (with Graeme T. Boushey)
Paper presented at 2015 meeting of the American Political Science Association
Scholars of American politics debate the consequences of divided government on legislative productivity, but have largely neglected the impact of institutional conflict on the policy outputs of the bureaucracy. We argue that institutional gridlock empowers bureaucrats, who exploit disagreement among competing principals to pursue policy goals through rulemaking. To explore these dynamics we draw upon a comprehensive data set of over 150,000 proposed and adopted rules issued by state agencies from 1994 through 2010, allowing us to model aggregate and policy-specific changes in rulemaking over time. Our focus on the state-level contributes to a fuller understanding of the political and institutional sources of bureaucratic autonomy, as we find that divided government results in an increase in the volume, content, and breadth of state rulemaking. Our research also highlights the importance of legislative oversight powers, as we find that rulemaking increases sharply when divided government occurs in states where legislatures lack the ability to veto regulations. In addition, we observe that bureaucratic influence is most pronounced in states with “citizen legislatures,” indicating that legislative deprofessionalization has made state assemblies increasingly dependent on the bureaucracy to guide lawmaking.
“Even Money: Tied Chambers, Power Sharing, and Party Effects in State Legislatures” (with Josh M. Ryan)
Data collection in progress, paper presented at 2014 State Politics and Policy Conference
In American legislatures, the party leadership has a wide variety of powers, including agenda-setting, selecting committee chairs and doling out committee assignments to members. Whether the leadership is able to use institutional rules to produce outlying committees, and as a result, outlying legislation is the subject of much debate among scholars of Congress. Because the majority party and the party leadership are constant within a Congress, it is difficult to discern independent “party effects” at the federal level. States, with significant variation in majority party size, institutional rules granted to the leadership, and ideological cohesion, offer a better venue for studying party effects. We leverage a unique institutional situation, tied chambers, to exploit the variation available at the state-level while accounting for cross-sectional differences. Many state chambers have an even number of legislators, and partisan ties occasionally occur. Using an original dataset of tied chambers and power sharing agreements, we are able to measure party effects within a state chamber, and across states. In many states, power sharing agreements require leadership rotation, and give each party control over different committees, or switch leadership at time intervals. We connect these agreements to committee composition and legislative outcomes. Specifically, we expect that committee composition will reflect the outlying ideological preferences of the party with control over them, rather than the chamber median. We additionally expect bills reported from these committees to reflect different party agendas, leading to intra- and inter-state variation in winning coalitions.
Works in Progress
“Participation Bias and Health Inequalities in the States” (with William W. Franko)
Can voting be good for your health? Previous research has rightly emphasized how economic inequalities produce health disparities, in the U.S. and elsewhere. Yet, the exact form of the relationship between wealth/income and health varies a great deal across political jurisdictions. We examine this variation throughout the 50 U.S. states and propose that it may be driven by varying levels of participation inequality across the states and over time. We aim to show, as comprehensively as possible, that inequalities in voting rates (between the poor and the affluent) lead to policies that are harmful for the health of the poor. Besides contributing to public health and political science literatures, our research promises to offer a novel solution to health inequality: policies that make it easier for the poor to vote can actually serve to equalize health outcomes downstream, especially with respect to children.
“What Bargain? Gubernatorial Budget Success and Medicaid Expansion”
Paper presented at 2014 Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Scholars in Health Policy Research Conference
Since the 2012 Supreme Court decision that made the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion directive optional for states, interbranch bargaining over Medicaid policy has been at the fore of state and national political news. Governors and state legislatures across the United States have clashed, sometimes notably, over the attractiveness of the federal financial incentive to expand Medicaid. High profile cases include Gov. John Kasich (R-OH) and Gov. Jan Brewer (R-AZ) using institutional (and arguably extra-constitutional) resources to overcome copartisans in their legislatures and accept the federal government’s cost-sharing bargain. Unlike these high profile cases, some governors have bided their time and avoided taking explicit positions on Medicaid expansion, leaving legislatures to make the first move, or have otherwise taken strategic positions on the issue. In this paper, I seek to systematically assess interbranch bargaining dynamics in this important policy area, while avoiding methodological issues of selection bias and unrevealed preferences. Specifically, I look to data (roughly, from 2001-2014) on gubernatorial budget proposals, enacted budgets, and the congruence between the two with respect to Medicaid programs to assess who “wins” in interbranch bargaining. Consistent with previous research, I find that governors with more institutional resources, such as more potent veto powers, are more successful in achieving their preferred Medicaid budgets. I also find that national level politics affects gubernatorial success in this policy area, with public approval of President Obama, and “ObamaCare” more specifically, variably affecting budget bargaining outcomes in the states.
“Administrative Reform and the Shadows of the Future: Insulation and Politicization in the U.S. States”
Paper presented at 2013 State Politics and Policy Conference
State bureaucracies and the policies they formulate and implement are shaped in large part by the administrative structure within which they work and the personnel policies which govern their composition. State-level administrative procedure acts determine state regulatory environments and previous research has identified political conditions under which these laws are passed. Likewise, scholars have assessed the determinants of the rise (and eventual fall in some states) of the merit principle in state personnel systems. Studied in isolation from each other, the diffusion of these two types of major administrative reform is interesting, but does not speak comprehensively to the political motives of insulation versus politicization strategies. In this paper, I treat administrative procedures and state personnel systems as indicative of general strategies of political control by majority parties on the cusp of electoral loss. I assess the explanatory power of this framework empirically on the diffusions of state APAs (from 1941-1984), merit systems (from 1883-1989), and merit system repeal (from 1996-2005). Consistent with theory, I find broadly that secure majorities prefer politicization of the bureaucracy, but tenuous ones often insulate while they can.