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Do Electorally Vulnerable Legislators Grant More or Less Statutory Discretion to the Bureaucracy?

Mona Vakilifathi, assistant professor at the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service at New York University, presents findings from a study of the California State Senate.

May 25, 2018
from 12:00 PM to 01:30 PM

Kerr 693

Abstract: What is the effect of a change in individual‐level electoral competition on a reelection‐seeking legislator’s statutory discretion to the bureaucracy? In order to answer this question, I utilize a within‐subject natural experiment in the California State Senate during the 2011‐12 regular legislative session. I test the effect of a change in a State Senator’s electoral competition in her current and future district on the statutory discretion in her introductory legislation before and after the California Citizens Redistricting Commission’s inaugural release of the legislative district maps in 2011 and 2012. I find that a decrease in electoral competition results in an increase in statutory discretion only for the incumbent legislators running for office in an election year. If a legislator is more certain that she will win reelection in the upcoming election, the findings demonstrate that she is less likely to invest the time and resources necessary to grant less statutory discretion to the bureaucracy.

Mona Vakilifathi is an assistant professor at the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service at New York University. Her research connects the effect of politics in the statehouse to K‐12 education outcomes by the degree of policy discretion state politicians grant to the bureaucracy. She has worked at the Center for Education Policy Analysis and Policy Analysis for California Education at Stanford University. In addition, she has worked as a consultant and a fellow for the San Diego Unified School District, the New Jersey State Department of Education, the New York City Department of Education, and the California Assembly Committee on Education.