Tchaikovsky Sounds Funny: Book Review: "Who Runs for the Legislature?"

Is this where I put in key words such as sex, lesbians, vampires, Christopher Lloyd and others things to which this blog do not pertain, but by putting them here, I may get hits from all the Christoper Lloyd lesbian vampire fans (and you know who you are)? This is the primarily humorous and occasionally rambling writings of Leon Tchaikovsky, humor writer. Enjoy.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Book Review: "Who Runs for the Legislature?"

Tchaikovsky Sounds Funny

This book attempts to find out what type of person runs for election to the state legislature. This is a helpful guide, as many of these species can be found running around the Capitol. This book helps us in identifying the varieties of legislators we may find if we observe carefully. (Caution: Do not get too close to their natural habitat. We’re not yet certain if it is safe to observe all legislators, especially those calling themselves "Republicans".)

The authors interviewed legislative party leaders in half the states, surveyed legislative candidates in eight states and personally interviewed legislative candidates in three states. A primary observation this book makes is that, in recent years, fewer people seek election to state legislatures. This is interesting as the book notes (what we already know) that state legislatures have increasing become more important. In recent decades, legislatures have found increased power over budgets and overseeing government operations. While state legislators have gained power, the position attracts fewer candidates.

The reason why fewer people seek an increasingly influential position is that challengers shy away from running against these increasingly powerful incumbent legislators. It is usually difficult to defeat an incumbent legislator. It is costly in terms of time and finances to run campaigns. Further, winning often is not enough incentive to run. People can usually find more financial reward, job security, and potential occupational upward mobility in other careers. It is becoming more difficult to find people to risk their current careers to enter politics.

Further, recent decades have found increased apathy towards social and political activisms as well as increased negative feelings towards politicians, according to the authors. Although I will note there have historically been negative feelings towards politicians, the authors observe there has been decreased participation in any type of structured activities, from being politically active, going to church, and even joining bowling leagues. I note some public sentiment has improved towards public leaders after the terrorist attacks, so this could be changing.

The 1990s decade saw about 35% of all state legislative general elections nationally with just one candidate facing no opposition. This is three times the rate of uncontested races members of Congress faced. While there are no surveys of why people do not run for office, the book observes that surveys of people who do run indicate they find fund raising the least liked aspect of running. The displeasure of fund raising may be a huge deterrent against others ever running.

So, who does run? Just over half (52.1%, according to the authors) of legislative candidates have no children at home. Most candidates are male and Caucasian. About one tenth of non-incumbent candidates are lawyers. The largest source of candidates is those recruited by political party officials. In fact, the authors claim, political party officials in recent years have increased their recruitment activities. Incidentally, campaign recruiters stated the factor that most indicates whether a person would be a possible winning candidate is the person’s ability to raise money.

Recruiters find difficulties in getting people to run for legislative seats. The media pays little attention to these races and it is expensive to get campaign messages to the public. Further, people shy away from a legislative job that creates much demand on one’s time. The book suggests recruiters should consider past candidates as sources for potential candidates. The researchers state that losing candidates who ran credible campaigns are more apt to win in subsequent races.

This is a fascinating study into an area seldom examined. The authors are dismayed that the public is having fewer choices in voting for state legislative seats at times when the position’s importance is increasing. Further, the lack of media attention means the public is receiving less information to make choices even when choices of candidates are presented.


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