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Term Limits, Redistricting Contribute to Shifting Demographics in Missouri Legislature, MU Expert Says

Increase in women, decrease in middle-aged legislators attributed to term limits in Missouri

May 30, 2013

Story Contact(s):
Nathan Hurst, hurstn@missouri.edu, 573-882-6217

COLUMBIA, Mo. ­— Missouri voters approved legislative term limits in 1992, which took effect in the House of Representatives in 2001 and the Senate in 2003. Now, David Valentine, a research associate professor in the University of Missouri Truman School of Public Affairs, has found that since voters approved term limits in the early 1990s, the number of women in the Missouri legislature has increased from 18 percent to 23 percent. Valentine, who compiled a report measuring diversity in the Missouri legislature from 1991-2013, says the institution of term limits in the early 2000s may be a contributing factor to this change.

“Term limits have opened more seats throughout the legislature,” Valentine said. “Almost all of the women who were elected to the Senate during this period were already members of the House and were well-positioned to run for the Senate. The increase in the number of women serving in the General Assembly during this 20-year period suggests that broad social trends are at work, even though term limits may have had a moderate effect on the number of women in both chambers in the early 2000s.”

Valentine also noted a decrease of 15 percent in women elected between 2003 and 2009 despite the overall rise in women legislators. He attributes this short-term trend to redistricting that occurred in the early 2000s.

“Historically, the majority of women in the Missouri legislature have been members of the Democratic Party,” Valentine said. “When Missouri Republicans gained the majority in the early 2000s, redistricting efforts may have cost Democrats some seats in what were traditionally Democrat-held districts. This might account for the decline in the number of women elected during that time period.”

In his report, which is published on the MU Institute of Public Policy (IPP) website and distributed to Missouri legislators and policy makers, Valentine notes that term limits seem to not have had any significant effects on the number of racial minorities elected to the Missouri legislature However, he did find a significant change in the ages of Missouri representatives and senators.

“The proportion of legislators 41 to 55 years of age increased significantly to more than 50 percent in the late 1990s; this is probably a result of members choosing to remain in the legislature until removed by term limits,” Valentine said. “However, since 2001 the proportion of members who are 41 to 55 has decreased while the proportion of those who are 56 or older has grown. The decline in the 41 to 55 age group may represent the effects of removing career politicians, which was a goal of term limits advocates. During the same time period, the percentage of representatives falling into the 56 and older age group increase, and by 2009, these representatives constituted the largest age group. This trend hints that term limits has made legislative service more attractive as a second career while increasing the opportunity for individuals who want to serve.”

To view a full copy of the IPP report, visit: http://ipp.missouri.edu/files/ipp/attachments/06-2013_diversity_in_the_missouri_legislature.pdf

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