Politician: Executive Summary

Yes, the wheels of democracy turn slowly, but inexorably those wheels move toward progress.

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We don't normally think of politicians as the most ethical of people, so it may sound surprising that being a highly principled person is a critical requirement. Political office brings an endless stream of temptations, so it is essential that the politician start out with a strong ethical backbone. Other intangible assets: Be instantly likable, an excellent negotiator, and indefatigable. For many higher-visibility posts, unfortunately, it's practically a full-time job just to get elected—even as state legislator. No sooner do you win an exhausting campaign than you must crank up your fundraising machine all over again.

But for many politicians, it's well worth it. They have the power to make a difference in society. Yes, the wheels of democracy turn slowly (and sometimes backward), but inexorably those wheels move toward progress. And politicians often feel they get to see their constituents' quality of life improve.

Median Pay

Pay is all over the map, ranging from zero for a town alderman to $400,000 a year for president of the United States. Here are a few data points:

  • Legislators' pay ranges from less than $11,970 to more than $71,010.
  • Governors' salaries range from $50,000 in American Samoa to $179,000 in New York.
  • U.S. senators and representatives earn $162,100.


No formal training is required. Many politicians start as a school board member, city councilperson, prominent attorney, or aide to an elected official. And some make their way through law enforcement channels, becoming a district attorney or judge, say, which requires a law degree. Logical next steps: mayor, state legislator, and later, perhaps, governor or member of the U.S. Congress. Many elected officials, however, don't aspire to higher office.

Smart Specialty

County Schools Superintendent. Your day-to-day life consists of leading the planning for all the school districts in your county, guiding grant writers, schmoozing with legislators, and solving thorny problems like union negotiations or disputes between principals and parents.

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