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Minnesota State University, Mankato
Minnesota State University, Mankato


Page address: Syllabi/PS473SYL.html

Political Science 473/573
The Legislative Process
Spring 2005
TTh 8:00-9:15
MH 206

Instructor: Dr. Fred Slocum
Office: 204A Morris Hall
Phone: 389-6935
Web site:
Office Hours: M, W, F 1:00-3:00; T, Th 9:30-11:30, or by appointment


This course examines legislative politics in the United States, with primary attention given to the United States Congress.   The course is divided into four major parts.  The first part examines congressional elections; the second part looks at the structure and operations of Congress.  After midterm, we'll consider the relationships between Congress and other actors in the U.S. political system: the public, the president, the federal courts, interest groups and the federal bureaucracy.  Finally, we will take up Congress' role in domestic and foreign policymaking.  As time allows, we may consider selected proposals for reforming Congress, such as changing the terms of office, placing term limits on Congress members or instituting public financing for congressional elections.

We will encounter many ideas this semester, some of them quite controversial.  Political scientists, politicians and political observers argue vociferously over these ideas, and you should, too.  I expect and encourage frequent participation from members of the class.  You should come to class prepared to offer opinions, observations and questions, and to use recent events to shed light on concepts learned in this class.  Although I have definite political preferences, I strongly hope that students of all political persuasions will feel equally free to express their opinions during class discussions.  No student's grade will be affected by any political or partisan agreement or disagreement with the professor!

Course Objectives:

To the extent they do well in this course, students will gain knowledge and understanding of the following:

  • The American framers' experiences with legislatures, and how those experiences shaped the constitutional powers given to Congress
  • The process of drawing House districts, and the impacts of drawing majority-minority districts
  • Congressional elections: candidate recruitment, conduct and procedures, and House-Senate differences
  • The incumbency advantage, and other influences on congressional election outcomes
  • The influences of party in organizing Congress
  • Congressional committees: their purpose and evolution over time
  • The lawmaking process; other congressional rules and procedures
  • Other functions of Congress outside lawmaking: the appropriations power and congressional oversight
  • Influences on public satisfaction with Congress
  • Influences on presidential success in Congress
  • How Congress and the federal courts each limit one another's power
  • The connections between Congress members and interest groups
  • How Congress can influence bureaucratic actions and decisions
  • Congressional influences over domestic and foreign policymaking

An additional objective of this course is to sharpen skills that will benefit you in gaining employment or admission to graduate or professional school.  These skills include especially those of communication (oral and written) and critical thinking that are valued increasingly in the global economy.  We will spend substantial class time discussing topics related to the readings and/or current events, as appropriate.  Students will be assigned to complete a research article review and oral report, and two other oral/written assignments with a choice of topics.  For graduate students, a longer book review replaces the article review, and an annotated bibliography will also be required.  Details on all paper assignments will be handed out separately.

Assignments and Grading:

There will be one midterm exam (March 10) and a non-cumulative final exam (May 10).  Each will consist of essays and identification items.  About a week before each, I will pass out a study guide to help you prepare.

The review assignment (to be handed out separately) will be due in class Tuesday, May 3, with oral presentations in class that same day.  For undergraduates, the paper will be a critical review (about 4 typed, double-spaced pages) of a research article on U.S. legislative politics found in a professional journal such as Legislative Studies Quarterly.  No article can be reviewed by more than one student.  For graduate students, the paper instead will be a longer review of a scholarly book on Congress, due the same date.

There are several other paper assignments, all 4 to 5 pages in length, and students can exercise some choice among them.  The first option is to report on an individual House member in the current (109th) Congress and his or her district.  A second option is to report on a historically important congressional leader, such as Newt Gingrich, Lyndon Johnson or Joseph Cannon.  A third option is a report on a two-year congressional session, including among other things partisan makeup, changes in rules and procedures, and major policy outputs and/or accomplishments.  Students will choose any two of the above three options and for each, complete the assignment in a short paper and make a brief oral presentation in class.  Further details and specific due dates will be handed out separately.

Graduate students will also complete an annotated bibliography of articles from scholarly journals (totaling 250 pages or more) on a topic relevant to Congress or legislative politics.  The topic must be cleared with the instructor.  The first-draft topic of your bibliography must be submitted to me in writing no later than Thursday, February 3; the final bibliography topic is due in writing Thursday, February 17.  The bibliography itself is due Thursday, April 14.  Details of the bibliography assignment will be handed out separately.

Students are expected to contribute actively to class discussions, and should feel free to raise questions or points during class at any time.  Graduate students are expected to participate more actively in class.

Course grades will be determined as follows:

Undergraduate students:

  • Midterm exam: 20%
  • Article review: 15%
  • Paper 1: 15%
  • Paper 2: 15%
  • Attendance and participation: 10%
  • Final exam: 25%

Graduate students:

  • Midterm exam: 15%
  • Book review: 15%
  • Paper 1: 10%
  • Paper 2: 10%
  • Bibliography: 20%
  • Attendance and participation: 10%
  • Final exam: 20%

Grades will not be curved, meaning that you will not be competing against your classmates for a limited number of A's, B's and so on.  The grading scale is a straight scale, as follows:

  • A: 90%-100%
  • B: 80%-89.9%
  • C: 70%-79.9%
  • D: 60%-69.9%
  • F: 59.9% or less

Students whose point totals place them very near the cut point for the next higher letter grade will be evaluated on an individual basis for promotion to the higher grade.  In this evaluation, I will consider actors such as class participation, attitude and improvement over the term.

Students with Disabilities:

I would like to hear (early in the semester is much preferred) from students with a documented learning or other disability that might require some modification of seating, testing, or other class arrangements.  I will make every effort to accommodate students with these needs.  If you have any questions, please see me or contact Julie Snow in the Disability Services Office (132 Memorial Library, 389-1819).

Policy on Attendance:

I will note attendance frequently if not daily.  All students should plan to attend class regularly and contribute to class discussions.  Students are responsible for obtaining notes for any missed session.  Excused absences may be considered on a case-by-case basis for valid reasons (such as for certain medical reasons), or for significant opportunities, such as attending a professional conference.  Whenever possible, please notify me in advance of an absence, giving a valid reason.

Policy on Make-Up Examinations and Incomplete Grades:

Examinations cannot be made up unless the student provides acceptable, documented reason for missing the exam.  Makeup exam requests have merit to the extent that (1) the circumstance is unavoidable, (2) the reason for missing the exam can be documented, and (3) the instructor is notified well in advance of the exam.  Makeup exams will not necessarily be identical to, and may be more difficult than, the exam given in class.  Early exams will not be given.

The MSU Undergraduate Bulletin outlines University policy on incomplete grades as follows.  "The grade of 'incomplete' is reserved for special cases and means that, because of extenuating circumstances, the student failed to meet a specific need and an important requirement of the course, but has in other respects done passing work for the semester.  The incomplete must be made up in the next semester in which the student has enrolled, unless other arrangements have been made between the student and instructor.  If the deficiency is not made up within the specified time, the grade automatically becomes an F or NC" (p. 33).  I will support and enforce this policy fully.

Policy on Late Assignments:

Barring extenuating circumstances (which I must be notified of and approve in advance), late papers will be downgraded one full letter grade (10 points) for each calendar day late (20 points over a weekend), and no papers will be accepted more than three days late, unless other arrangements are made with the instructor.  These must be for valid reasons, similar to, but more compelling than, those justifying a makeup exam.  Computer-related problems (i.e. printer malfunctions, hard drive or disk crashes) are not an acceptable reason for late papers or extensions.

Academic Dishonesty:

A number of activities may be construed as academic dishonesty (cheating).  These include, but are not limited to: copying material from another source (book, manuscript or another student) without proper acknowledgment, using crib sheets during an exam, talking during an exam, or looking at another student's exam.  Any cheating will result in an automatic F in the course and possible further disciplinary action.  In papers, if you either quote a source or paraphrase (express an idea drawn from another source in your own words), you must acknowledge your use of that source in an approved citation form (i.e. APA, MLA, Chicago citation style).  Come see me if you have any questions.


There are two required texts for this class; both are available at the CSU/Barnes & Noble Book Store.  We will read most, but not necessarily all, of each book.

  • Roger H. Davidson and Walter J. Oleszek, Congress and Its Members, 9th edition.  Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2004.
  • Paul S. Herrnson, Congressional Elections: Campaigning At Home and in Washington, 4th edition.  Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2004.
  • Recommended reading: The New York Times or Washington Post (available on the Web at or
  • There may be an occasional reading assignment outside the two main course texts.  These assignments will be announced in class, and will be distributed in class or placed on reserve in Memorial Library.

Course Calendar and Assignments:

I will make reasonable efforts to follow the schedule of topics below.  However, as time and circumstances dictate, the dates may change somewhat.  Thus, the dates given below should be considered approximate.  I will announce any changes to the schedule below in class.  Abbreviations used below are as follows: D&O (Davidson and Oleszek) and H (Herrnson).

Part I: Origins and Evolution of Congress.

Week 1 - January 18-20: Introductions; constitutional origins and provisions; the evolution of Congress.  D&O, Chs. 1 and 2.

Part II: Congressional Elections.

Week 2 - January 25-27: The strategic context; candidate recruitment; campaigns and the parties' role in them.  H, Chs. 1, 2, 3 and 4.

Week 3 - February 1-3: Interest groups' role in campaigns; campaign resources and strategy.  H, Chs. 5, 6 and 7.

(Thursday, February 3: Graduate students - draft bibliography topics due)

Week 4 - February 8-10: Campaign communications; incumbents, challengers and open-seat candidates; the permanent campaign.  H, Chs. 8, 9 and 10.

Part III: Structures and Operation of Congress.

Week 5 - February 15-17: Student presentations.  Congressional leaders and parties.  D&O, Ch. 6.

(Thursday, February 17: Graduate students - final bibliography topics due)

Week 6 - February 22-24: Congressional committees.  D&O, Ch.7.

Week 7 - March 1-3: Congressional rules and procedures.  D&O, Ch. 8.

Week 8 - March 8: Decision making in Congress.  D&O, Ch. 9.

(Thursday, March 10: Midterm exam)

(Tuesday and Thursday, March 15 and 17: Spring vacation - NO CLASS)

Part IV: Relationships between Congress and Other Political Actors.

Week 9 - March 22-24: Congress and the president.  D&O, Ch. 10.

Week 10 - March 29-31: Student presentations.  Congress and the bureaucracy.  D&O, Ch. 11.

Week 11 - April 5-7: Congress and the courts.  D&O, Ch. 12.

Week 12 - April 12-14: Congress and interest groups.  D&O, Ch. 13.

(Thursday, April 14: Graduate students: Bibliographies due)

Part V. Congress and Policymaking.

Week 13 - April 19-21: Congress and domestic policy.  D&O, Ch. 14.

Week 14 - April 26-28: Student presentations.  Congress, national security policy and foreign policy.  D&O, Ch. 15.

(Tuesday, May 3: Article/book reviews due)

Week 15 - May 3-5: Student presentations.  The 'two Congresses'.  D&O, Ch. 16.

(Tuesday, May 10, 8:00 AM: Final exam)