What Do Legislators Do?
Legislators are elected by their constituents to introduce, develop and enact laws. Legislators are elected at multiple levels of government, from the local, to state to federal. Legislators are also elected by Native American tribes to produce and enact laws on the tribal level. Legislators are elected for a set term, after which they may run again. Re-election frequently depends on factors such as the popularity of previous actions as well as the availability or otherwise of a qualified opponent.The amount of job openings is determined by the size of the legislature in question, which, in turn, depends on the population of the area it serves. Nationally, the projected amount of openings is 1,650 annually.
Legislators Skills and Abilities
While there is not a specific required skill set that a legislator must have in order to be elected, there are some general characteristics that are likely to lead to success, both in terms of getting elected and in performing your job duties. Legislators must exhibit a high level of communication and negotiation skills in order to convince others to pass a given law and to minimize opposition. To propose and pass laws that are effective and benefit your community, you should have the ability to gather and process information, organize your thoughts and come up with solutions that address the root cause of problems. The ability to think ahead and consider possible ramifications is also an asset.
As a legislator, you will have many responsibilities to your constituents. You will need to sustain effective and informative communication with your community, keeping them informed of developments and programs and making yourself available to answer questions and receive public input. At all times, you should be prepared to address community concerns and respond appropriately to events. To be effective as a lawmaker, you will also have to build relationships with other legislators, government officials and representatives of local and national organizations. Your position will also entail the following:
- Maintaining offices and staff in your district
- Preparing strategies and approaches to present your position on important issues
- Processing feedback from constituents to ensure that you are meeting their needs
- Keeping yourself informed of local, national and international developments
- Drafting legislation, amendments, policies, budgets and programs
Legislators Tools and Technology
As with other issues, legislators should keep abreast of developments in technology and be aware of how these developments might affect their communities. Although you will have support staff, you should be able to use basic word processing and drafting software, as well networking tools. Dictation programs may also be helpful to you. Databases and news services can aid you in researching a particular issue.
Education and Training for Legislators
Most legislators have earned a bachelor’s degree, although that is not a prerequisite. A sizable percentage of lawmakers have a master’s degree, with some small percentages having some college education or a high school diploma. Experience is typically expected, since most people will not vote to elect a lawmaker who has not shown an ability to lead effectively. While government experience is an asset, any experience in a leadership or organizational role can highlight your abilities and make you more likely to succeed.
Legislators’ salaries are determined by the budget of the branch of government for which they are elected, ranging from as little as $16,700 to as much as $87,900. The national median salary for a legislator is $20,200.
Legislators by Geography
The highest amounts of legislator positions exist in New York, Illinois and Ohio. Keep in mind that these numbers include all types of legislators, from those involved in local governments of small towns to those in the State Senate. Legislators have a greater chance of succeeding in an area where they have roots and demonstrable local knowledge and experience. State and Federal positions are typically gained after legislative experienced at a more local level.