The year was 1974. America was in a nasty recession, unemployment hit a high of 11.3%, OPEC controlled energy prices, air pollution filled the skies and speed limits were capped at 55 mph. You could buy a computer, if you had $9,000 and could carry 50 pounds.
Back then, a majority of legislatures convened only every other year. And, when they did, women occupied less than 10% of the seats nationwide. No one was term-limited and only about 3% of legislators considered themselves full-time lawmakers. Across the country, 5,100 legislators were Democrats and 2,385 were Republicans. The nation was a different place. Or, was it?
Dolly Parton was hot, wild weather was
frequent (148 tornadoes hit 13 states) and executions were on hold. Policy discussions centered on clean air, the high costs of college, overcrowded prisons, marijuana, abortion and gun control.
And all eyes were focused on the chaos in the federal government. Seven former White House officials had been indicted and charged with conspiracy to obstruct justice for their role in the Watergate scandal. In August, President Richard Nixon resigned.
In that context, state legislatures were needed more than ever to be the government by and for the people. Many believed that with some support and assistance, legislatures were more likely than their federal counterparts to fulfill the Founding Fathers' desire to "form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility... promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty."
They just needed an NCSL.
Three Into One
In the mid-70s, there were three national organizations competing for state legislators and legislative staff.
The National Legislative Conference, founded by a group of legislative service agency directors in 1948, was under the wing of the Council of State Governments. Then came the National Conference of State Legislative Leaders in 1959, followed by the National Society of State Legislators in the early '60s. After a few failed attempts to merge themselves, a group of lawmakers asked the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University, then under the direction of political scientist Alan Rosenthal, to survey legislators and staff and recommend a solution.
In August 1974, following the researchers' advice, representatives from the three groups voted to dissolve their organizations and form the National Conference of State Legislatures, effective Jan. 1, 1975.
The organizations formed a...