Nearly half of the members of Congress are former state legislators


Senate majority leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., both rose up through the ranks of their state legislatures. (Credit: EPA/Jim Lo Scalzo.)

The odds are almost even that one of your federal representatives was once a local representative.

One of GovBeat’s reasons for focusing on states and local areas are that they’re incubators for policies and politicians alike. Every big idea and national mover and shaker had to start somewhere. President Obama famously got his start in the Illinois legislature, for example. All of which got us thinking, how many members of Congress once roamed the halls of their state chambers?  Almost half, it turns out.

Of the 535 voting members of Congress, 260 are former state legislators, according to a January count from the bipartisan National Conference of State Legislatures. That’s 49 percent.

In the Senate, 43 members were former state legislators. Of that chamber’s 53 Democrats, 27 once served in a state legislature, compared to 16 of the 45 Senate Republicans. In the House, the total is 219 — just over half. That’s 92 Democrats, including a delegate, 126 Republicans and one independent delegate.

The group includes the majority leaders of both the House and Senate — Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio). California, the state with the most seats, also has 32 former state legislators, more than any other state. The entire congressional delegations from Hawaii, Idaho, Nevada and Wyoming are former state legislators.

Interestingly, NCSL also notes that half of all U.S. presidents have served in state or colonial legislatures, starting with George Washington, who served in the Virginia House of Burgesses from 1758 to 1774. Obama was the first former state legislator since Jimmy Carter.

Niraj Chokshi reports for GovBeat, The Post's state and local policy blog.

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