BRC’s newest member, Karl Kurtz,
 is passionate about representative democracy and wants us to know why...

Not only was Karl Kurtz our speaker on Friday November 17th, he is now a member of the Boulder Rotary Club- Welcome Karl!

Karl is married to fellow BRC member, Janet Beardsley. They have four children and five grandchildren. Karl is a principal of Legal Matters, a consulting firm that works to strengthen democratic institutions- especially legislative bodies- at home and abroad. His passion for representative democracy started early. He worked with the National Conference of State Legislatures from its founding in 1975 until he retired in 2014.

Karl co-authored The Republic on Trial: The Case for Representative Democracy as well as co-editing Institutional Change in American Politics: The Case for Term Limits.

Karl was also the director of National Conference for State Legislatures’ Trust for Representative Democracy: a civic education campaign designed to engage citizens and build their understanding and support for America's democratic institutions. The NCSL partnered with the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, to conduct a study regarding why state level legislatures, which suffer from the same types of partisanship and polarization as the United States’ Congress, are still able to negotiate partisan road-blocks and pass effective policy while our national level legislature increasingly cannot.

After being inducted as the newest member of the BRC, Karl spoke to BRC on Friday about the study.

Karl laid out the basics, who was studied, the definitions, and the methodology, then got down to the findings. Why do state legislatures work in an atmosphere of heightened polarization? A variety of reasons: sometimes it is institutional factors such as fixed adjournment dates, part-time citizen legislatures, single subject bill rules and fair and consistent application of legislative rules. Sometimes the policy making effectiveness lies with people:  governors who are concerned with their legacies, legislative leaders who promote bipartisanship and civility or committee bodies that promote minority party inclusion. Karl told us that these factors do not always come together for state legislatures but it does work enough that they can be a role model to other legislative bodies.

Karl left us by sharing his abiding faith in representative democracy. When working in Southern Brazil, Karl saw a sign that perfectly stated his view. It read “Povo sem parlamento `e povo escravo.” For those of us who do not speak Portuguese, that declaration read, “People without parliament are people in chains.”

Read more about the Partisanship Study here: