Friday, July 12, 2013

RIP Dr. Alan Rosenthal

I just read the New York Times obituary for Dr. Alan Rosenthal.  If you have been involved in state government at any time since before I was born and virtually anywhere in the country you have probably met him, read one of his books, took his class, heard him speak or simply watched him modernize your state legislature.  I met him on a number of occasions and talked with him in depth a handful of times (we share a strong dislike for term limits).  I wouldn't say I knew him well, but few people have had as big an impact on my career as Dr. Rosenthal.  I will miss him.

The man was a giant in the study of state government.  He really helped push the professionalism of state legislatures - calling for professional staffs, non-partisan legislative budget offices and pay for legislators.  It is hard to believe Connecticut had a biennial legislature not that long ago  (and my guess is many Nutmeg State residents would gladly go back to those days).

There a many reasons that I will remember him.  I loved his books - The Third House is THE book on state lobbying.  He had a unique insight to state government and access that rivaled anyone I know.  He loved to share stories with anyone that would listen, which is probably why he wrote so many books.

But the one reason I will always remember him, is because he is most responsible for shaping the way I look at state government.  It is why I love working with state legislatures and legislators so much.  It is why Dr. Rosenthal never stopped being a cheerleader for state legislatures.

People in state government loves to refer to Justice Brandeis' quote about states being the laboratories of democracy.  To Dr. Rosenthal, states legislatures were more than that. To Dr. Rosenthal, the legislatures were the drivers of democracy.  In one of my favorite books Engines of Democracy, Dr. Rosenthal compares state legislatures to the little engine that could.  The engine/legislature pulls democracy over the big hill into the station. But instead of the cheers that the little engine got in the story, this train is more likely met with indifference or even jeers.  Dr. Rosenthal never stopped cheering that train when it got into the station, because he knew what hard work it took to get there.

In a fitting tribute - the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) set up a site of testimonials to the late, great Dr. Rosenthal.  Please take a look here and here.

For my tribute, I am going to go back and read a book or two, and continue to be cheerleader for state legislatures - the true engines of democracy.