From Passive to Active Representation: The Case of Women Congressional Staff

Bell, Linda Cohen; Rosenthal, Cindy Simon
January 2003
Journal of Public Administration Research & Theory;Jan2003, Vol. 13 Issue 1, p65
Academic Journal
The history of the rise and diffusion of the merit principle in American government is common lore to students of public administration and political science. Several descriptive accounts notwithstanding, scholars have ignored an intriguing puzzle vis-á-vis state merit adoptions: Why did some states adopt merit systems early in the twentieth century while other states followed suit decades later, and then only when they were forced to do so by the federal government? When we analyze state merit adoptions that occurred between 1900 and 1939 we find nationwide and state-specific demographic, economic, structural, and political factors-for example, growth in patronage constituencies; the use of the Australian ballot; political party competition; dwindling patronage resources post-Pendleton; and the onset of the Great Depression-that shifted politicians' preferences for the merit principle rather than patronage. Our research thus breaks sharply with the extant literature by emphasizing the political undercurrents of merit reform.


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