by Karl Kurtz and Tim Storey
The combination of unusually high turnover in the membership of state legislatures after the 2010 election and anticipated high rates of churn after the redistricting election of 2012 makes it likely that approximately half of all state legislators will have served for two years or less at the start of 2013 legislaitve sessions. The 2010-12 cycle almost certainly will result in the highest rate of turnover in state legislatures over two elections in the last 50 years.
How do we arrive at this conclusion? The 2010 nationwide surge of Republican gains in state legislatures resulted in a high water mark of 29 percent for membership turnover in a non-redistricting year. For the upcoming 2012 election, the average rate of turnover in legislatures in years ending in "2" in the last three redistricting cycles is 30 percent. We have no reason to believe that 2012 will be any different.
Combining these two election results, it seems likely that about half of all legislators will be freshman or sophomore members in their chambers. Unfortunately, though, we can't simply add together the numbers from the two elections to produce a more definite number and avoid weasel words like "may" or "seems likely." There are four reasons for this:
- The 2012 election could turn out to be different from previous post-redistricting elections. Predicting any kind of election results is notoriously difficult.
- Many of the seats that will turn over in 2012 also had new members after the 2010 election. The result in each of these districts will be a legislator elected with no previous experience, but if we add 2010 and 2012 turnover together, we would be counting that seat twice in our tally of inexperienced members in 2013.
- Some new members elected to one chamber in a state will have had experience serving in the other chamber, so we must be careful not to exaggerate the inexperience levels. For example, 29 of 38 members (76 percent) of the Michigan Senate were new to that body after the 2010 election. But 14 of them had previous experience in the House, so the real rate of legislative inexperience in the Senate was 39 percent (15 of 38 members).
- In a relatively small number of cases, legislators with previous experience who have been out of the legislature may return to run again. This is especially likely in the nine states with term limits based on consecutive service (not lifetime limits). For example, despite eight year (consecutive) term limits for the Ohio House, Speaker William Batchelder is now in his 37th year of legislative service because he sat out for a while and then returned to the General Assembly. Our turnover data would have counted him as a new member in the year that he returned.
Despite these caveats, we are confident in our conclusion that very close to half or more of all state legislators will have less than two years of experience after the 2012 election. Of course, not every state will have high levels of inexperience, but it is a warning to leaders and legislative staff (and NCSL and other national organizations) that there is a need to expand training and professional development opportunities for the influx of freshman and sophomore legislators.
Coincidentally, over at Governing magazine Lou Jacobson posted a column on the same subject today. It's a good piece that goes into more depth about anticipated turnover in specific states and the consequences of inexperience. We take a somewhat different view of the causes of this unusual two-election turnover cycle, though. We suggest that it is more due to the Republican sweep of 2010 and redistricting in 2012 than it is term limits and redistricting. Term limits have of course increased turnover, but the waves of turnover come in different years in different states and cannot by itself account for the anticipated 2010-12 turnover phenomenon.