Who Runs for the Legislature?
by Gary F. Moncrief, Peverill Squire, and Malcolm E. Jewell
Publisher: Prentice Hall
Summary: What makes an average citizen decide to run for office? Authors Moncrief, Squire, and Jewell examine Americans who have run for their state legislatures. Who Runs for the Legislature? is a nice mix of statistics and personal stories that will appeal to politics junkies and political scientists.
Review: The back cover of Who Runs? contains a quote that calls state legislatures “the Rodney Dangerfields of political science.” It if unfortunate that few people have chosen to study state lawmakers. After all, federal officeholders receive intense coverage through the frequently-updated Almanac of American Politics and CQ’s Politics in America, but many more people serve in state legislatures.
Who Runs? is a short book that helps explain why citizens – many of them “everyday people” – decide to take the plunge and get involved in “retail politics.” The book begins with a sobering account of the costs – financial and personal – of running for the legislature, and reports just how many legislative races are uncontested.
Chapters 2 and 3 provide an interesting look at how parties recruit candidates for office. Readers learn that – for the legislature – it is not difficult to get one’s name on the ballot. (Winning the race is “a whole ‘nother story”). These chapters teach readers much about “the practice of politics.”
Similarly, Chapter 4 examines how legislative candidates campaign. I enjoyed this chapter, but found it to be too short. Chapter 5 focuses on issues for women and minority candidates; again, what is covered is fairly interesting, but the chapter is just an introduction to a broad topic. The book closes with the very-short Chapter 6, which includes some of the authors’ thoughts on how necessary candidates are to a healthy republic – and how many trends discourage participation in civic life.
Throughout the chapters, the authors support their assertions with reams of statistics, which can overwhelm readers at times. The book might “read better” if some of these stats were in appendices.
Though the chapters are both interesting and readable, my favorite parts of the book are the ten candidate profiles that the authors include throughout the text. Who Runs? tells the stories of ten legislative candidates in three different states (Washington, Alabama, and Colorado). These stories put the authors’ statistics in a more-human light.
The ten candidates are from both parties and ran for various reasons. Some won and some lost. Living in Alabama, I was particularly interested in the four profiles of candidates for the Alabama legislature. Three of the four were unsuccessful, but the fourth (Mike Hubbard) won and is now Speaker of the House in the legislature.
In the End…
Admittedly, Who Runs? will appeal only to political scientists and those with a keen interest in the topic. However, for those two groups, the book is a nice, quick, enlightening read.