Legislative Gridlock: Yes, It’s a Talent Issue

Steve Gifford Audacious Ideas, Candidate Pool, HR, Leadership, Policies, Recruiting, Steve Gifford, War for Talent

Sequestration, filibuster, campaign finance… Congressional dysfunction isn’t just them, it’s how *we* manage them!

Consider the recruiting pool a member of Congress.  Technically, you only need to be a citizen and over 35, so the talent pool is pretty large.  Realistically, though, it’s hard to run for Congress if it’s your first time in elected office.  You’re probably a local elected official, or a member of your state’s legislature.  That’s a much smaller pool of candidates in a given Congressional district.

So let’s look at a state legislature.  Not as an angry voter, but as a recruiting challenge.  What does your job posting look like?

Part time oversight position needed.  Must be a Connecticut voter, willing to commute to Hartford.  Will need to review every proposed law for a state of 3.5 million people.  Work is three to six months per year, different every other year, plus a number of uncompensated evening and weekend meetings.  People will want to talk to you in the grocery store.  Employment contracts are for two years, can be renewed by spending hundreds of hours walking door to door on weekends.  Pay is $28,000 per year.  You are welcome to find another job for the rest of the year, but you’ll need to find an employer willing to give you up a *lot*.

Want to work in Texas?  $7,200 per year, and work every other year.  New Hampshire pays $200, yes $200, for a two-year term.  For a full list, go here.

It’s not all pittances; New York is willing to spring for $79K per year, and California pays $95K.  Not terrible, but both are high-cost states, and both states are big enough that legislators will need to get a second residence in Albany or Sacramento.

But, who is the talent pool for these jobs?  In most states, legislators either need another (incredibly flexible) job to make ends meet, or they have to be independently wealthy.  Even if you or I had the inclination to serve, the money is going to get in the way.

A state legislature provides oversight for a massive state bureaucracy and organization.  For comparison, the tool maker Stanley Black and Decker (headquartered in Connecticut) makes about $10B per year.  Members of their Board of Directors are paid something north of $125K per year, and most have other jobs as well.  By comparison, legislators here — the “board of directors” for the State of Connecticut — are paid $28K to meet more often, and wield more authority.

Again I ask who wants that job?

There’s a reason that special interests hold more sway than voters in state capitals — they pay better!  A special interest can recruit lobbyists from large law-firms, and pay them six figures to become full-time experts on an issue.  As an employer, we the voters offer a much less attractive option for talent.  We recruit from the few people willing to take on the job, and pay them part-time wages for part-time responsibilities.  It’s no wonder that special interests are getting better representation than voters in Hartford and elsewhere — they’re winning the war for talent!

Actual members of Congress are paid pretty well, even though they usually have to maintain two residences.  But the peculiarities and frankly cheapness of state legislatures means that the “farm team” for members of Congress is a very small and unusual group.  There’s a very basic succession issue here: we train our members of Congress to work part-time for full-time responsibilities in their state legislatures for a few years, and then we send them to Washington!  Is it any wonder that they’re not the very best candidates we can find?

Next time you think about how much “those bums” in your state capitol are getting paid, consider it as a talent professional.  Just like in your organization, you will get the performance that you’re willing to pay for.