February 17, 2014 in Region

WA lawmakers older, richer, less diverse than constituents

Associated Press
 

SEATTLE — A Seattle Times analysis has found Washington state’s 147-member Legislature is wealthier, older and less diverse than the people it represents.

“The typical state legislator nationally is like a mid-50s white guy,” said Todd Donovan, a political-science professor at Western Washington University.

Although Washington is supposed to have a part-time “citizen Legislature,” the Times analysis of financial-disclosure reports found that about 27 percent of state lawmakers hold no outside job.

Some of them depend solely on their state salary, plus per diems, but most also have supplemental income such as pensions, investments or a working spouse.

Several full-time legislators are financially independent and appear in no real need of a state salary.

State Rep. Hans Dunshee, 60, used to run a small business designing septic systems. He gave it up years ago because being chairman of the House Capital Budget Committee ate up too much time.

He lives in a modest home he partly rents out and otherwise survives off the income of being a state legislator — $42,106 a year.

“I was having customers call while I was working on stuff and couldn’t do them both well. I had to make a choice,” said Dunshee, D-Snohomish.

The median age for state lawmakers here is 53. The median age for all state residents over the age of 18 is 45. While the state is 72 percent white and split 50-50 by gender, 90 percent of the state Legislature is white and two-thirds is male.

“We have a progressive state like Washington that touts itself for diversity, yet it is striking that the Legislature has very few people of color in it,” Rep. Luis Moscoso, D-Mountlake Terrace, said, adding he thinks that’s improving.

In terms of gender, Washington is doing better than most states with about 32 percent of its seats held by women compared with 24 percent nationally.

Lawmakers do come from diverse backgrounds. More than a third have backgrounds in law, education and health care or worked as a government employee. Another 12 percent indicated they owned a business. The rest come from a variety of occupations including unions, the military and law enforcement.

Figuring out how much money legislators make is nearly impossible.

Under state law, they are only required to record on disclosure reports what they make within broad ranges for each source of income. The maximum income can’t be determined because their financial-disclosure reports only require them to say if they earn $100,000 or more.

The Seattle Times analysis found that roughly 46 percent of state lawmakers have household incomes of at least $100,000 a year. By comparison, only 25 percent of households statewide make at least $100,000 a year.

Eight lawmakers reported two or more income sources of at least $100,000 a year. A dozen lawmakers reported at least $100,000 in annual income from investments, not jobs.

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