GOVT 155 – The Legislative Process

Professor Witko


Tahoe Hall 3115                                                                                                                                                                       Phone:  278-3572       

Office Hours:  MW 3-4:30 and by appointment.                                                                                                                        e-mail:


Course Objectives:

Observers have said that there are two things you don’t want to see being made: laws and sausages.  We will thumb our noses at this advice and undertake a detailed examination of the legislative process beginning with candidate recruitment and elections, representation and member motivations, institutional processes and procedures, and the legislature’s interactions with other political institutions.  Upon completion of this course you should be reasonably knowledgeable about the workings of both the U.S. Congress and the California Legislature, though we will focus primarily on the U.S. Congress. Additionally, you should be able to critically analyze the institutions and activities of the legislative process, with an eye for its relative virtues and shortcomings.  A final project will require you to closely analyze the activities of one member of Congress.        


Required Texts:

Bessette, Joseph M.  The Mild Voice of Reason.


Clucas, Richard A.  The Speaker’s Electoral Connection:  Willie Brown and the California Assembly


Davidson, Roger H. and Walter Oleszek.  Congress and Its Members.  9th ed. 


Mayhew, David R.  Congress:  The Electoral Connection. 


You are also required to read the Washington Post Monday-Friday (on line edition).


Methods of Evaluation

Homeworks – There will be two homework assignments.


Exams – Midterm and a final exam.


Term Paper- This project will require you to conduct a detailed case study of the activities of a single member of Congress throughout the course of the semester and present your analysis in a 10 page paper and in an in class oral presentation.  The Homework assignments will expose you to some of the research materials used in your final paper.  A more detailed assignment will be handed out in class.      


Attendance and Participation- Attendance and participation are required.  While some classes may be primarily lecture, most of the semester will involve discussing the readings and current legislative issues.  Furthermore, we will begin most classes with a discussion of recent congressional activity covered in the Washington Post.  Therefore, student participation is crucial.  Each recorded absence beyond three will result in a letter grade reduction in your participation and attendance grade.  Perfect attendance does not ensure a good grade, active and intelligent participation with good attendance does. 



Homework Assignments (2) 15%

Midterm 20%

Term Paper and Presentation 30%

Final 25%

Participation 10%


GOVT155 on the Web

From time to time I may make class materials available on my website. 


Plagiarism is the use of distinctive ideas or works belonging to another person without providing adequate acknowledgement of that person's contribution. Regardless of the means of appropriation, incorporating another's work into one's own requires adequate identification and acknowledgement. Plagiarism is doubly unethical because it deprives the author of rightful credit and gives credit to someone who has not earned it. Acknowledgement is not necessary when the material used is common knowledge. When the course is not noted, the following would constitute plagiarism:
1. Word-for-word copying.
2. The mosaic (to intersperse a few words of one's own here and there while, in essence, copying another's work).
3. The paraphrase (the rewriting of another's work, yet still using the fundamental idea or theory).
4. Fabrication (inventing or counterfeiting sources).
5. Ghost-written material (submitting another's effort as one's own).
It is also plagiarism to neglect quotation marks on material that is otherwise acknowledged. Plagiarism and acts associated with it are cause for disciplinary and/or legal action.
California Code of Regulations, Sections 41301 through 41304 of Title 5, Article 1.1 states, "Following procedures consonant with due process established pursuant to Section 41304, any student of a campus may be expelled, suspended, placed on probation or given a lesser sanction for one or more of the following causes which must be campus related:
(a) Cheating or plagiarism in connection with an academic program at a campus."


Students with Disabilities


If you have a disability and require accommodations, you need to provide disability documentation to SSWD, Lassen Hall 1008, (916) 278-6955.  Please discuss your accommodation needs with me after class or during my office hours early in the semester. 


Course Outline

Week 1 (1/26-1/30)

Introduction:  Congress and Legislatures in the U.S. System of Government

Read:  D+O Chapters 1 and 2

Begin Selecting Your Member of Congress


Week 2 (2/2-2/6)

Recruitment and Elections

Read:  D+O Chapters 3 and 4

Week 3 (2/9-2/13)


Read:  C+O Chapter 5


Week 4 (2/16-2/20)

What motivates members of Congress?

Read:  Mayhew p. 1-77, Bessette preface and p. 1-149.

Homework 1 Due on 2/16


Week 5 (2/23-2/27)

Political Parties

Read:  D+O Chapter 6


Week 6 (3/1-3/5)

Legislative Leaders

Read: Clucas (All)


Week 7 (3/8-3/12)

Legislative Committee Structures and Processes

Read:  D+O Chapters 7 and 8


Week 8 (3/15-3/19)

Legislative Decision-making

Read:  D+O Chapters 9, Mayhew p. 81-158, Bessette p. 150-181


Week 9 (3/22-3/26)

Legislatures and Executives

Read:  D+O Chapter 10, Mayhew 158-180, Bessette 182-246

Midterm Exam on 3/22


Week 10 (3/29-4/2)

Legislatures, Bureaucracies and the Courts

Read: D+O Chapters 11 and 12

No Class on 3/31 – Happy Birthday Cesar Chavez


Week 11 (4/5-4/11)

Spring Break, No Class


Week 12 (4/12-4/16)

Legislatures and Organized Interests

Read:  D + O Chapter 13

Homework 2 Due on 4/16


Week 13 (4/19-4/23)

Budgets and Domestic Policy

Read:  D+O Chapter 14


Week 14 (4/26-4/30) 

National Security Policy and Legislative Reform

Read:  D+O Chapter 15, 16


Week 15 (5/3-5/7)

Begin student presentations

Final Paper Due on 5/3


Week 16 (5/10-5/14)

Class presentations continued


Final Exam: 5/19, 10:15-12:15.


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