Meet our Faculty Affiliate: Michael Minta
The Center for Effective Lawmaking recently sat down with faculty affiliate Professor Michael Minta, an Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Minnesota, to discuss his research and his partnership with the CEL. Professor Minta’s research focuses on American politics, race and ethnicity in US politics, and representation of underrepresented groups in Congress. Most recently, Professor Minta has also been researching interest groups and how they react to private funding.
When asked how he came to study political science, Professor Minta explains he took a somewhat nontraditional path. He received a Master of Public Policy from the Lyndon Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin. After receiving his degree, Minta stayed in Austin to work in state government. There, he worked as an analyst for the state’s attorney general and a state legislative commission.
Through this work, Professor Minta developed an interest in political science and eventually pursued a PhD. He received is PhD in political science from the University of Michigan, where he decided that while his employment experience was in state government, he was more interested in studying political science at the federal level.
Professor Minta is currently working on two research projects. The first of these examines how minority interest groups work with members of Congress to represent marginalized groups such as Blacks and Latino/as. Because these groups do not have access to the same resources as larger lobbying groups to donate to campaigns and lobby, he examines how these groups compete with larger interests.
He is also researching the role of corporate and private foundation funding and how it influences the operations of advocacy groups. While other research examines how advocacy groups impact members’ decisions, Professor Minta hopes to understand how funding can affect the agendas of the groups themselves.
His most recent research project aims to examine pandemic preparedness in the US Congress. Professor Minta points out that President Trump has received the brunt of the blame for the United States’ mishandling of the Covid-19 pandemic. However, he hopes to understand what role Congress plays in pandemic response and whether Congress has effectively prepared the country for a pandemic situation. He plans to do this by examining congressional pandemic responses dating all the way back to the 1918 flu pandemic. By examining both the legislative and executive branches, he hopes to better understand how effectively Congress plays a role in pandemic preparedness and response.
When asked about what he considers to be some of his most impactful research, Professor Minta pointed to his first book, entitled Oversight: Representing the Interests of Blacks and Latinos in Congress. Minta explains he was part of a camp of scholars that aimed to go beyond roll call voting when analyzing members’ actions. Instead, he turned to oversight of federal bureaucracies.
He found that for most minority groups, there isn’t a large need for new legislation, but there is a need for existing legislation to be implemented and enforced. He identified issues Blacks and Latino/as tend to care about, and then examined whether or not differences existed between groups. Minta found that on racial issues such as civil rights and racial profiling, race is significant and you see a difference between Blacks and Latino/as. However, on social welfare issues such as unemployment and housing, the effects of race are moderated because these issues aren’t explicitly racial. He also found that in some congresses, there were visible racial differences among members of Congress who attended hearings on these issues.
Minta also points to a second paper, in which he examined whether the racial composition of Congress as a whole determined how much attention was paid to issues minorities care about. By examining Congress from the 1950s to the mid-2000s, he found that racial diversity led to more attention to minority interests through the number of hearings held on racial issues and social welfare issues. Whether or not minority members were proposing legislation in these fields or not, just having diverse members in the room stimulated the body to respond to these issues.
Professor Minta enjoys working with the CEL because he believes it is important to understand effectiveness through different dimensions. While roll call voting is important, it is just one aspect of the policy process, and it is important to consider the work done behind the scenes when creating a complete view of how well members are representing their constituents. Minta appreciates the holistic view of members the CEL creates in trying to assess whether they are effective.
“The Center tries to put a score on who’s most effective… I like that it also tells a story about political representation, too.”