State Capitol

Oklahoma state Capitol

Thomas Jefferson once said public employment contributes neither to advantage nor happiness, but it’s an honorable exile from one’s family and affairs. 

As a federal republic, our country is governed by elected representatives and by an elected leader, and not by a king, queen or dictator.

In the state of Oklahoma, our bicameral Legislature is comprised of the House of Representatives and the Senate. A total of 101 state representatives serve two-year terms, while 48 state senators serve four-year terms.

Oklahoma lawmakers usually spend more than two-thirds of a full-time job serving as legislators, but they typically need a second source of income to make a living, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

With state lawmakers’ annual pay being cut by nearly $3,400 — or 8.8 percent — starting next year, many Oklahoma legislators are scrutinizing their family’s bank balances to figure out how — or if — they can make ends meet.

Recently, CNHI Oklahoma contacted all 147 legislators to determine if they hold a second job and whether legislative pay is their primary source of income. Our lawmakers were more than willing to talk after the pay cut.

In all, 73 state lawmakers responded. More than 60 percent said they don’t rely on their legislative pay as their main source of income.

However, 17 lawmakers, including some former teachers, said they count on their $38,400 annual paycheck as their primary income.

Another 10 said they need both their legislative salary and the income from another job.

We realize it’s a sacrifice to serve. Interestingly, a recent Oklahoma Watch investigation found state legislators spend donations on perks in a non-election year.

If lawmakers are representing their districts only for the dough, that’s the wrong reason. Public servants should be working to make a positive difference to our society. If you care only about the salary, you probably shouldn’t be in public office.

Oklahoma law prohibits legislators from collecting two government incomes, according to the NCSL. While some states exempt teachers, Oklahoma does not. Lawmakers can collect state pensions or retirement or National Guard pay, according to the organization.

With the four-month legislative session sometimes lasting longer with extra special sessions, we predict some may choose not to run for re-election.

It’s becoming harder to become a career politician in the strictest sense of the term, although some legislators will term out after a dozen years and some switch to becoming a lobbyist.

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