The NCSL Blog


By Michael Quillen

What do lawmakers do after serving in the legislature? Many run for Congress.

election vote Since 2005, about half of U.S. representatives and senators have had state legislative experience, ranging between 48% and 51%. Currently, 49% of our federal lawmakers are former state legislators: 24 Republican and 22 Democratic U.S. senators, and 91 Republican and 105 Democratic U.S. representatives, along with one independent and one New Progressive Party member.

“As far as the upcoming election, about 20% of the congressional races have one candidate who is either a former or current state legislator; however in only two instances do both candidates have state legislative experience. Indiana’s fifth Congressional District pits Republican State Senator Victoria Spartz and former Democrat State Representative Christina Hale and Iowa’s second Congressional District between former Democrat State Senator Rite Hart and current Republican State Senator Mariannette Miller-Meeks.”

Thirty-five incumbent congressmembers who are former state legislators face reelection, while 55 of the former lawmakers running are non-incumbents.

Some notable state legislative leaders running for Congress include Speaker of the Maine House Sara Gideon (D), New Jersey Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean (R) and Wisconsin Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R).

The former lawmaker-turned-congressional-candidate reflects much of the same demographics as do legislators in general. Men make up the majority of candidates, while women make up approximately one-third, 321 and 110, respectively.

For incumbent former state legislators, the story is much the same—141 men and 41 women are running to keep their seats. Forty-seven of them are Democrats and 86 are Republicans. Broken down by ethnicity, 140 are white, 19 are Black, 16 are Hispanic, three are Middle Eastern, two are Asian/Pacific Americans and one is a Native American.

Some hope those with state legislative experience will bring greater transparency, more efficiency, better time management and rare moments of bipartisanship—more often found in state legislatures—to what most Americans consider to be a fairly dysfunctional Congress.

Michael Quillen is a policy associate in NCSL's Labor and Economic Development Program.

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About the NCSL Blog

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.