EDITORIAL: Work, Legislature

The July-August issue of State Legislatures magazine turned an interesting light on the growing diversity in legislative membership and leadership nationwide and in the way legislators define themselves by occupation.
Based on surveys published by the National Conference of State Legislatures in the fall of 2008, the polling found a growing trend nationwide of legislators who consider themselves full-time lawmakers.
Nationwide statistics found that the category full-time legislator had risen from 2.7 percent in 1976 to 16.4 percent in 2007. The percentage of the full-time legislators actually exceeded the category of full-time attorneys, which was 15.2 percent. Attorneys have historically held a large share of legislative seats, as well as seats in Congress.
Mississippi lawmakers counter the nationwide trend in self-definition of what full-time work is. Only 1.7 percent of Mississippi legislators defined themselves as full-time in that occupation, a perhaps surprising statistic because special sessions and news coverage of legislative affairs amplify their work while in session.
A higher percentage of Mississippi lawmakers classified themselves as full-time attorneys, 23.8 percent, a more traditional percentage based on a long timeline of legislative occupations.
The Mississippi Legislature also had significant representation from other occupations:
– 8.1 percent as business owners
– 8.1 percent from agriculture, which would include farming and related occupations
– 6.4 percent retired from some other occupation
– 8.1 percent as a business executive or manager
– 3.5 percent as an educator (none employed by colleges)
– 11.1 percent in consulting or non-profit employment
– 8.7 percent in the medical professions, and,
– No homemakers
The magazine reported that the rise in full-time legislators is related to increasing time demands in legislative posts, a sentiment often echoed by the largely part-time members of the Mississippi House and Senate who stress over longer-than-anticipated absences from major-income producing jobs.
That Mississippi has no homemakers in the Legislature is interesting because, nationwide, retirees and homemakers make up 28 percent of those who consider themselves full-time lawmakers. Mississippi’s retiree percentage is also lower than the national average: 6.4 percent compared to 11.7 percent.
State Legislatures’ report said that increasing populations and consequently more populous legislative districts generate more need for constituent services, demanding more time, making work outside a Legislature more difficult.
We hope that trend can be held in check. Legislatures, more than any other body, remain the stronghold of citizen lawmakers whose work in Capitols and committee rooms is seasonal, a link to the roots of American elective governance.

NEMS Daily Journal