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Becoming a Crew Member on the Ship of State
They say that laws are like sausages: they are easier to like if you don't watch them being made. But if you're ready to roll up your sleeves and jump into the lawmaking kitchen, becoming a senator has definite appeal. Senators can earn great salaries and benefits, and they have a hand in designing their own employment packages. They get lots of paid vacations and perks, which would work out well for a working mom with kids at home. But you also have to be willing to stand the heat of politics and need to run a winning campaign. If this sounds right up your alley, you'll need to know how to go about it.
Senators debate proposed laws, negotiate proposed laws and finally vote the laws in or down. This can be on the federal level, in Washington, D.C., or on the state level, in your state's capital city. While U.S. senators represent their state, state senators speak up for the interests of the citizens in their district and work to improve the lives of their constituents.
At both the federal and state level, senators work within their committees and on the floor, debating proposals and attempting to persuade other senators to think their way about particular legislation. Negotiating is a part of every senator's job duties, as is forming relationships with senators who have different political views.
At the federal level, senators represent their state in Washington, D.C., for a six-year term. You can run and be elected as many times as the citizens vote you into office. At the state level, the time frame is generally shorter. State senate terms vary between states, with some elected only for two-year terms. Most states do not set term limits, but a few do, like California.
The qualifications to run for the U.S. Senate are set out in the U.S. Constitution. You must be at least 30 years old, a citizen of the United States for nine years and, when elected, a resident of the state you are elected to represent. You do not have to hold a high school diploma, let alone a college degree. However, many senators have completed college and earned advanced degrees, like law degrees. The salary, set by Congress, is the same regardless of whether you hold a doctorate in neurophysiology or dropped out of school in the eighth grade: currently it's an amount over $150,000 but under $200,000, plus benefits.
Each state sets its own qualifications for someone to run for state senate, but few mandate more than citizenship and state residency. In Texas, for example, a candidate must be at least 26 years old before the date of the election. Salaries vary significantly between states. According to PayScale, Arkansas lawmakers currently earn only $14,067, while California state senators and representatives are paid $110,880.
Note that both on the federal and on the state level, senators can get daily expense amounts for the periods the legislature is in session. This is to help cover their living expenses while in Washington, D.C., or their state capital.
Industry in Which Senators Work
Senators always work for a governmental body, but this can be at the state or the federal level. Senators are not supposed to work for any other industry or company while they serve their constituents as lawmakers. Those who do may be found to have a conflict of interest.
Usually a candidate for senate will select a party (Democrat, Republican, Independent or other) and run with that party affiliation. You must raise funds for your campaign, pay a filing fee and obtain and complete nomination documents including the requisite number of signatures.
Candidates for senate usually have to file a personal financial disclosure. You'll also have to report campaign finances. Then, of course, you'll have to win the primary election as well as the general election.
Years of Experience
Politics is one career in which years of experience doesn't bring you additional compensation. You may improve your skills at negotiating and building a consensus, but you'll still get the same salary as every other senator.
Job Growth Trend
There are exactly 100 U.S. Senators, two per state, so the job growth in this area is not likely to change. Likewise, the number of state senators is set by law, and any additional senatorial positions would require a change of the state law.
Lawyer, writer and world traveler, Teo Spengler splits her home time between San Francisco and France. She has specialized in travel, legal and business writing for the past 15 years, including articles providing tips for mothers returning to the work world or making other big changes in their lives. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, and numerous attorney websites. She holds a J.D. from U.C. Berkeley, an M.A. in English and an M.F.A. in fiction.