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Congressional Beginnings

6 October 2011
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"The beginning is the most important part of the work." - Plato Do you ever wonder where your Representative or Senator got their start in the political arena? Often we're introduced to these people only while they're on the campaign trail, but for most Congressional candidates, this isn't their first rodeo. Join us as we look briefly at how local-level government has helped to begin careers in Congress for many of our elected officials. The most popular starting place for a member of Congress is their state's legislature. Of our 535 members of Congress, 180 began their political careers this way. On the other hand, 126 members of Congress started their political careers by running for Congress (and winning). After that, 53 members began in government as part of a city council or as mayor. The next most popular way to start a political career is to become a member of a county board or other county governing group; 27 members of Congress kicked off their journey to the Capitol by doing so. Finally, 26 members of Congress began their political careers with an unsuccessful run for Congress, which may just go to show that attempting a goal or aspiration may pay off in the long run. The Constitution states that a Representative must be 25 years old and a Senator must be 30 years old when they are seated, but most don't get into politics until much later. The average age of a Representative or Senator when they began their political career was about 37 years old. For comparison, the average age of a serving Representative or Senator is 58.2 years according to the Congressional Research Service.
Some Representatives and Senators started before their 37
th birthdays. Representative Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) was just 20 years old when he became a member of the McLean County Board. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) was also just 20 years old when he became a member of the Union City Board of Education. Similarly, Representative Scott Tipton (CO-3) was 20 years old as well when he was a delegate at the 1976 Republican National Convention. Others, however, were a bit older when they began their careers. Freshman Representative Mike Kelly (R-PA) is 63 years old and just got his start as a member of Congress this year. Representatives Paul Broun (R-GA), and Nicola Tsongas (D-MA) were all 61 when they began their careers in politics as United States Congressmen. Senator Jim Webb (D-VA) was also 61 when he first took office in the Senate. So now we turn the post over to you. What's the youngest you think a Congressman should be when he takes office? The oldest? Post your answers in the comments section below and be sure to check out  our website, www.votesmart.org, for more information on every member of Congress. Past government experience was collected and analyzed using Project Vote Smart's database of information, including biographies, on congressional members found at www.votesmart.org.

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