By Mick Bullock

Did you know that nearly half of the 113th Congress once served in a state legislature? To be precise, 219 members of the House and 43 members of the Senate had the honor of serving in the legislature in their state.

Having once worked as a staff member for the state Senate in Mississippi, I can see how the state legislature can prepare you for life on Capitol Hill. In fact, I believe Washington can take a couple of notes from the states.

Our fourth president, James Madison, once said, “The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the state governments are numerous and indefinite.” President Madison knew the powers of a strong government should reside with the states. This is also a principle in which NCSL believes and fights for on behalf of states in Washington.  

U.S. Rep. Alan Nunnelee (R-Miss.)State legislators all around the country are accustomed to making difficult decisions under tight deadlines. I recall a situation where a Mississippi state senator, Alan Nunnelee, was serving as appropriations chair and had five minutes to get Senate members to approve a budget for the Mississippi Highway Patrol before the clock hit midnight. He used his skills to not only answer every question from fellow Senate members but was able to get the budget approved with one minute to spare.

Now, Nunnelee is a U.S. congressman representing the 1st District of Mississippi. But it does not stop there. Because of Nunnelee’s time in the state Senate and serving as the appropriations chair, the leadership named him to the House Appropriations Committee. It is perhaps one of the most sought after committees in Congress and completely unheard for a freshman member to be named to it. Again,  a true testament to the time spent in the state legislature.

I talked with Nunnelee recently and discussed how his time as a state senator helped prepare him for Capitol Hill. “For me, the experience I had at the State House has been invaluable in helping me be effective inside Congress,” he said. “Because of my three years chairing the Appropriations Committee in the state Senate, when I got to D.C., Speaker Boehner said that is exactly the type of leadership we need on the Appropriations Committee in the U.S. House.”

Nunnelee also went on to say that working in the Mississippi Legislature gave him a certain perspective on how to accomplish things by working together. “As a state legislator you understand very quickly you are part of a team, nobody accomplishes anything in the legislative process by themselves. You either accomplish working with other people or you do not accomplish anything at all.”

Some would say we need more of the working together mindset in Washington. After all, if working together achieves things in the state capitol why would it not work in the nation’s capitol?

Note: Nunnelee announced last week that he is undergoing surgery this week and we wish him a speedy recovery. 

Mick Bullock served as spokesman for Mississippi’s Phil Bryant when he served as lieutenant governor and as governor. Bullock now serves as director of public affairs in NCSL’s Washington, D.C., office.

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This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.


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