COLUMBUS – According to new research, the adage “a government of the people and by the people” rings only somewhat true at Ohio’s Statehouse.
A new series from the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Stateline project examines the demographics of state Legislatures. The first installment, released today, focuses on gender. Nationally, said Stateline editor Jeffrey Stinson, the percentage of female state lawmakers has increased from the 1970s, when it was just 5 percent, “but it’s plateaued for about the last decade at around 25 percent. And Ohio, the mother of presidents, is right in line with that; 25 percent of the lawmakers there in Columbus are women.”
Nationally, the Stateline research found, one in three Democratic state legislators is a woman, and one in five Republican state lawmakers is female. Also in Ohio, Stinson noted, the percentages of African-Americans and Hispanics in office are comparable with those of the general population, whereas in other states, there is less diverse representation.
When looking at occupations, the data showed that most state Legislatures are dominated by people in business. Over the past decade, Stinson said, there’s been a surprising decline in the number of attorneys in office – currently 17 percent in Ohio.
“Now, whether that’s good or bad probably depends on what one thinks of lawyers,” he said, “whether you want people who are law-trained making your laws, or whether you think that lawyers will sit there and bog things down.”
The Pew findings indicated that the educational level of state lawmakers is higher than the general population, which Stinson says wasn’t surprising.
“You may well want somebody smarter than you or more educated than you,” he said. “But by the same token, we are a democracy and in many ways, we want people who are like us to represent us.”
He said about 40 percent of Ohio lawmakers have a bachelor’s degree, compared with about 17 percent of the overall population.
The series is online at stateline.org.