Young people still underrepresented in Texas Legislature

Chad Lyle

Texans under the age of 35 are significantly underrepresented in the state legislature, according to a study of current lawmakers by the Texas Tribune.

The minimum age requirement to hold a seat in the Texas House is 21 years old, and members of the Texas Senate must be at least 26 years old. Only six percent of state legislators are under the age of 34.

Government professor David Prindle said he thinks young people don’t run for state legislature positions as often as other age groups primarily because they lack the personal funds to support themselves while in office.  

“I think the main thing that keeps people from running is lack of money,” Prindle said. “The fact is that young people don’t have as much money as older people in general. That’s No. 1.”

Many state legislators hold other jobs because of the biennial nature of the position and low salary offered to lawmakers. While the legislature is in session, each member is paid $600 per month in addition to $190 per day. Lawmakers receive in total about $41,000 for a two-year term.

Prindle also said seats in the state legislature are not as frequently sought after as other, more prominent positions.

“There’s not a lot of prestige in being a state legislator,” Prindle said. “There is a lot of prestige in being a national legislator. Saying that you’re a member of a state legislature in any state just doesn’t bring you the same sort of prestige of say being governor, or a member of the House of Representatives in Washington.”

James Talarico, a 29-year-old UT alumnus who was recently sworn in as the Texas Legislature’s youngest member, said status should not be a consideration when looking to run for office. 

“Don’t do it for the title,” Talarico said. “Don’t do it for the recognition, don’t do it for the power, do it because you have a reason to run. That’s my only advice for anyone who’s thinking about it. And that goes for anybody on any side of the aisle.”

Talarico said people running for office also need to consider the sometimes-overwhelming nature of doing so.

“It was like drinking from a fire hose,” Talarico said. “I was hoping that I’d be able to sleep after the election, win or lose, and that has not come true yet. Because there (are) a lot of folks in (Austin) who I want to sit down with and start hammering out priorities … I want to make sure that I’m learning as much as I can from the more senior members. Now is the time to do that.”

Prindle said he ultimately does not think a larger share of representation by young people would change the dynamic of the legislature in a meaningful way.

“Personally, I think that age is not an important factor in terms of what the legislature does,” Prindle said. “What’s more important is party, ideology, where they get their finances, that sort of thing. Gender makes a difference also, but I don’t think age makes that much of a difference.”