How Can I Become a Legislator?
Research what it takes to become a legislator. Learn about job duties, education requirements and job outlook to find out if this is the career for you.
What Is a Legislator?
Legislators are responsible for analyzing proposed legislation and working with other legislators to determine if various bills will become official law. These politicians often collaborate with others to draft the bills that are proposed as well as proposed budgets.
A legislator is typically elected into office and represents the citizenry of a specific state or region. He or she will advocate for the represented region and try to ensure the overall wellness of the region: a responsibility that may include such activities as fundraising for needed local programs. Thus, the legislator may spend significant time not only on researching various issues but on meeting with constituents to gain different perspectives on given issues or concerns.
Much of a legislator's official duties will involve attending meetings where members of a legislative body debate and evaluate bills before voting on these measures.
Take a look at the chart below for a quick overview of this profession.
|Degree Required||Bachelor's degree|
|Key Responsibilities||Propose and vote on laws and statutes|
|Projected Job Outlook (2018-2028)||5%* (as fast as average)|
|Median Salary (2018)||$24,670*|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
What Type of Legislator Positions Should I Explore?
Several types, or levels, of legislator positions exist. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), these include jobs at the city, county, state and national level. As a legislator, you may work for Congress in either the Senate or the House of Representatives, which represents the legislative body of the United States.
What Types of Job Duties Would I Perform?
Legislators, according to the BLS, propose and vote on laws. Your job duties may be similar to a political scientist or other upper-level government employee. For example, you may conduct public opinion polls and policy research, analyze data and legislation as well as write and present reports. During the course of your employment, you will probably develop an area of expertise.
In general, legislators serve on committees. The U.S. Senate has three types of committees: standing committees, which include Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry as well as Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs; special, select and other committees, which include the Select Committee on Ethics and Special Committee on Aging; and joint Senate-House of Representatives committees, which include the Joint Committee on the Library and the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction.
What Basic Qualifications Do I Need to Meet?
The U.S. Senate's Constitutional Qualifications for Senator section states that you need to be at least 30 in order to run for office. You also need to have been a U.S. citizen for at least nine years. After you are elected, you cannot be an inhabitant of the state in which you ran for office.
According to the BLS, having served in the military may assist you with obtaining a job at the federal level. You would also need to pass a background check due to the likelihood that you will be handling sensitive material. Since legislators are either elected or appointed, the BLS indicates that you would be expected to have a public presence and community support.
Since this is a professional position, and similar to private industry positions, the BLS indicates that you would usually be expected to have at least a 4-year degree. Some positions may require you to have an advanced degree.
Qualifications for Individual State Legislatures
State legislatures have their own criteria. The Alaska State Legislature, for example, indicates that you need to be at least 21 and able to vote. You also need to have been a resident of the state for a minimum of three years. According to the Virginia General Assembly, you must be 21 or older, a district resident and able to vote for General Assembly members.
If you are running for the senate in Kentucky, you need to be at least 30. You must have lived in Kentucky for a minimum of six years; you must have lived in the district you wish to represent for a minimum of one year before running for office. For state representative positions, you must be 24 or older, and have lived in the state for a minimum of two years, one of which is before the election. In Minnesota, if you are at least 21, have lived in the state for a minimum of one year, including six months prior to the election in the district in which you hope to be elected, then the Minnesota State Legislature states you would be qualified to run for office.
Are There Any Restrictions I Should Know About?
Some states have specific restrictions. The Louisiana State Senate's Constitution indicates that if you have committed, been charged with and sentenced for a felony, you will be unable to run for office. This would also apply if you committed a crime in another state that Louisiana considers to be a felony. If it has been 15 years or more since you have served your sentence, however, or if you have been pardoned, you may run for office.
What Other Criteria Do I Need to Meet?
If you live in a state that holds primary elections, The Office of The Clerk U.S. House of Representatives states that you would need to run for and be voted into office by a plurality vote. There are some exceptions to this rule, however. In the District of Columbia, for example, you would need to receive the majority of popular votes.
The second exception you may encounter, according to the Office of The Clerk U.S. House of Representatives, occurs when your state uses a combination of primary elections, committee recommendations and party conventions. The third exception may occur when no one is running against you or if you are an independent. Finally, if you live in the state of Louisiana, you would need to participate in an all-party primary election. If you receive the majority vote, then you would be considered elected.
What Are Some Related Alternate Jobs?
A managerial role where you develop and oversee an organization and help meet organizational goals could have similarities to working as a legislator. A transportation, storage, and distribution manager, for example, helps plan and direct related activities while ensuring that all activities meet regulatory standards.
If you're interested in serving the public, you might consider becoming a teacher. At the elementary, middle and high school levels, these professionals grade students' work, build curricula, teach classes and meet with students' parents as well as school officials. Public school teachers typically need a bachelor's degree along with state licensure.
If you are interested in government leadership, you might consider an alternative political route, such as running for city mayor or state governor. Several positions are available in various town councils at the local level as well. Further, with a master's or doctoral degree in political science, you could operate behind-the-scenes as a political scientist who engages in research-heavy political analysis.