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November 11, 2010

State Legislators Are Serving Both Their Country and State 

Sixty-three state lawmakers are serving in the armed forces this Veterans Day.

For some, answering the call of duty means joining the military. For others, it means running for political office. But for a handful of people, it means doing both.

As the United States fights wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, several state legislators are serving in their state's National Guard or Reserve units while holding elected office, according to a new survey from the National Network of Legislators in the Military and the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Currently, 63 state legislators serve in the U.S. military in Reserve units or National Guard units. Of those 63, 26 have been deployed to another country while also serving in their respective statehouses. These deployments include tours in the Middle East within the last five years.

"These legislators deserve recognition every day, not just on Veterans Day, because of the challenges they address abroad and at home," said William T. Pound, executive director of the National Conference of State Legislatures. "They help keep our country safe and bring a unique world experience to their work in their statehouse." 

The Army has 43 state legislators serving among their ranks, the Air Force has nine, the Navy has eight and the Marine Corps has three. Of those, 31 legislators are serving in their states’ National Guard units and 32 are serving in Reserve units. Thirty-eight of these legislators are Republicans; 25 are Democrats. 

  • 32 state legislatures have at least one member serving in the military. 
  • Pennsylvania leads with five lawmakers serving in the military. 
  • Missouri and South Carolina have four. 
  • Iowa, Kansas, Massachusetts, Washington and Wisconsin each have three lawmakers currently serving in the military. 

Hawaii Rep. K. Mark Takai, a Major in the Hawaii Army National Guard, returned from deployment in September 2009 after serving at Camp Patriot, Kuwait. Takai, a nine-term legislator, missed most of the 2009 legislative session.

“There are significant challenges facing those lawmakers who decide to serve our country in the military, while also serving as state legislator," said Takai, chairman of the National Network of Legislators in the Military. “We all bring a unique perspective and some very compelling experiences gained through our experiences in the National Guard or Reserves.”

Rep. Takai, who conducted the survey of state legislative leaders, did the first survey in 2006 and coordinated surveys in each of the following years.

The 2010 study identified eight legislators who have been deployed more than once during their legislative careers:

  • Colorado Representative Joe Rice
  • Iowa Representative Royd Chambers
  • Missouri Representative Will Kraus
  • New Mexico Senator William Payne
  • Tennessee Representative John Windle
  • Texas Representative Frank Corte
  • Wisconsin Representative Roger Roth, Junior
  • Wisconsin Representative Scott Suder

Although there are no federal laws that prohibit state lawmakers from serving on active duty with the military, there are specific requirements for lawmakers who are activated and/or deployed. A Department of Defense directive, revised on Feb. 19, 2008, generally prohibits a full-time military service member on active duty from holding civil office in state government. For reserve members on active duty service for 270 days or less, this directive allows members to hold an elected office "provided there is no interference with the performance of military duties."

Recognizing the difficulties elected officials who are called to active duty may face, state legislators have introduced legislation that addresses maintaining the elected position of the public official. This year, in legislation providing that municipal officials can be removed from office for missing meetings for 90 consecutive days, Alabama exempted officials who are absent from meetings due to military service. In 2009, Arkansas specified that an elected official retains the public office upon returning from active military duty. In 2008, Louisiana allowed for temporary successors to be appointed if a legislator is called to active duty for more than 180 days and Maine exempted National Guard members from the law prohibiting an unclassified employee of the executive branch from being a candidate for elective office in a partisan public election.

Click here to review the 2010 state legislation.

For more information on this survey or to speak with a state legislator who also is serving in the military, contact the NCSL press room.

NCSL is a bipartisan organization that serves the legislators and staffs of the states, commonwealths and territories. It provides research, technical assistance and opportunities for policymakers to exchange ideas on the most pressing state issues and is an effective and respected advocate for the interests of the states in the American federal system.

The National Network of Legislators in the Military was launched at the 2006 National Conference of State Legislators Annual Meeting in Tennessee. The organization's goals are to provide information and guidance to those legislators who are or will be activated or deployed; a forum that will allow legislators to share “best practices” and model legislation to support the military in their respective states; and an opportunity to organizations and companies supporting our military to work with the network’s members.