Stateline - share of lawmakers who work in agriculture is half of what it was in 1976. Since then, the percentage of farmers has fallen from 9.7 to 4.6 percent, according to a new survey of the composition of the nation’s 50 state legislatures by Stateline and the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Even traditional agricultural states have seen the percentage of legislators who consider themselves farmers fall off. North Dakota, which had the greatest percentage of farmers at 42 percent in 1986, experienced the largest drop. Now, 23 of 141 legislators, or 16 percent, are farmers.
Vogel, a Republican and the chairman of the Pennsylvania Senate Agriculture & Rural Affairs Committee, worries that independent farmers won’t have a voice inside legislative committees, and on state House and Senate floors.
“Without someone there to say, ‘Whoa, let’s take a second look at this, this might not be the best thing for farmers,’ we’re going to get steamrolled,” Vogel said.
Farmers aren’t the only ones holding fewer seats than they used to. The percentage of lawyers serving in statehouses dropped from 22.3 percent in 1976 to 14.4 percent this year.
Lawmakers with business backgrounds hold the biggest share of seats. The survey found 29.5 percent of legislators are business owners, or are in accounting, insurance, real estate or other business fields. In all, 55 percent of state legislators nationwide work in business, are lawyers, or say lawmaking is their main profession. In 1976, 61 percent of legislators were in those fields. Since then, the percentage of lawmakers from other professions, such as consulting or nonprofit work, has grown.
The survey also revealed that the legislators generally have higher educational attainment than the population as a whole or the populations in the states they serve. Full-time legislators — who tend to be serving in more populous states — generally are more likely to have college diplomas than those in states with part-time legislatures.