What you need to know
Legislators exist at all levels of government. Towns, cities, counties, and states, as well as the federal government, have some type of legislative body.
Some of the things a legislator might do:
- Keep abreast of the issues affecting constituents by making personal visits and phone calls, reading local newspapers, and viewing or listening to local broadcasts
- Draft legislation or regulations
- Confer with colleagues to formulate positions and strategies pertaining to pending issues
- Debate the merits of proposals and bill amendments during floor sessions, following the appropriate rules of procedure
- Approve expenditures
- Hear testimony from constituents, representatives of interest groups, board and commission members, and others with an interest in bills or issues under consideration
- Communication skills: Legislators must present information to the public and represent their parties in negotiations with political executives or members of other parties, and when speaking with the media.
- Analytical skills: Legislators must analyze and understand the local and national implications of proposed legislation.
- Critical-thinking skills: Legislators serving on commissions, investigative panels, study groups, and committees must use critical thinking skills in order to examine specialized areas and recommend action.
- Leadership skills: Legislators must make decisions that balance the perspectives of private citizens, public officials, and party leaders.
- Teamwork skills: Legislators must be able to negotiate with colleagues or members of other political parties in order to reconcile differing interests, and to create policies and agreements.
The average pay for legislators in the United States ranges from $17,510 to $98,890 as of May 2018.
The base salary for members of the United States Congress is $174,000 as of October 2019.
As more young people become active in social issues, there are growing opportunities for them to participate as elected officials.
Becoming a legislator is different from entering other occupations in politics. There are no formal education or experience requirements for becoming a legislator, although legal conditions vary by office and may include minimum age or residency requirements. The only prerequisite for entering this occupation is to be elected by the voters in a town, city, district, or state.
However, candidates should have some personal or professional experience that is related to the office they are seeking. For example, someone interested in running for the city hospital board might have spent time working in a hospital. Similarly, a candidate interested in running for State senate might have previous experience as a State representative.