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Trends: are they important?
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A friend of mine recently commented about his 30-pound overweight problem, “You know, Teal, I looked down at my waist and realized the pounds had just crept up on me over the years.” That’s the nature of trends. Some develop slowly while some others develop quicker and become more noticeable.

The stock market records information by the second, minute, hour, day, month, year and longer periods of time. Journalists report trends over a day, a week or longer. Public opinion polls record a trend over both short and long periods of time.

Sometimes a trend will develop, disappear and reappear later. Several thousand years ago when the Children of Israel were about to mold a golden calf, Aaron said to them, “Take the gold rings from the ears of your wives, sons [emphasis added], and daughters and bring them to me.” Until recently, about the only males wearing earrings were so called “hippies.”

Retailers, marketing and advertising firms, educators, environmentalists, governments at all levels, politicians and others constantly study trends in order to determine where to locate a store or school, to determine if a product will sell and how to sell it, what public programs to create and how to fund them, determine climatic changes, determine which issue will generate votes, etc.

The historian must also study this great mass of trend information as he records and reports the past. He may also discover and report a previously unrecognized trend which became apparent after the passage of some time and the collection of information. Even with all this study and attention, some trends seem to “slip through the cracks,” so to speak, as my friend’s weight problem had done.

In recent conversations with many over-50 friends and individuals from Kershaw County and elsewhere such as educators, salesman, college professors other than political science and history ones, Sunday School classmates, newspaper reporters, etc., they were asked this question. In your opinion, which profession dominates the General Assembly today? Almost without exception, they answer, “Lawyers.” Are they right or are they wrong? What do you think? See if you are right by continuing to read.

Composition of the General Assembly

In order to answer the above question, a study of the composition of the General Assembly was completed by tallying how members listed their professions in legislative manuals for the years 1950 and 1980, and 2011-12 legislative session. Professions in real estate, insurance, marketing and advertising, banking, business ownership, merchants and investments were grouped under the generic category of “Businessmen.” A number of members just used that generic term to describe their profession in the Legislative Manual. Many members listed more than one profession. In those cases, the study includes them under each of the professions they listed.

 This study indicates 70 of the 150 members of the General Assembly were lawyers in 1950, or about 47 percent of them. By 1980, the number decreased to 60 but by the 2011-12 session, the number was 34, or 20 percent, of the two bodies. Today, for a large segment of the public, this trend has gone unrecognized and has just “slipped through the cracks.”

The professions of the 26 General Assembly’s standing committee chairmen were also studied. In 2011-12 only four of these 26 chairmen, or 15 percent, were attorneys. Two of the four were Judiciary Committee Chairmen who are customarily attorneys. It is clear that the number of and the influence of attorneys on the passage of legislation by the General Assembly has greatly decreased over the past 60 years.

This study reveals several other trends to have developed concerning the composition of the General Assembly. As South Carolina gradually shifted from an agriculturally based economy to an industrial/service one, fewer and fewer farmers or farm-related occupations have been followed by members elected to the General Assembly.

Another noticeable trend has occurred in political party representation in the General Assembly. In 1950, zero Republicans served of the 150 members. In 1980, 19 Republicans served, three in the Senate and 16 in the House. In the 2011-12, session there were 98 Republicans serving, 27 in the Senate and 71 in the House. In 2011-12 only 68 Democrats served, 19 in the Senate and 49 in the House.

Thirty-one businessmen served in the General Assembly in 1950, 75 in 1980 and 83 in 2011-12. During the past 30 years, 50 percent or more of the General Assembly members have been businessmen. These businessmen in 2011-12 occupied 85 percent of the General Assembly’s standing committee chairmanships.

There are some other trends in the composition of the General Assembly revealed by this study. In 1950, zero women served in the body. In 2011-12, 16 served in the House and zero served in the Senate, a distinct minority when one considers the fact that the state population is more than 50 percent female. In 1950, zero African-Americans served in the General Assembly. Thirty-eight served in the body in 2011-12.

On the basis of their numbers and their percentage of the membership of the General Assembly, Republicans, businessmen, males and Caucasians have more control and influence over the legislative process in South Caroline than smaller groups of members. In the smaller groups not already mentioned are to be found a few doctors, pharmacists, educators, ministers, homemakers, journalists, barbers, public employees and a few others.

Many other characteristics of General Assembly members beside their profession, party affiliation, sex and race could be tallied which would be of interest and provide useful information to voters, categories such as religious affiliation, leisure time choices, hobbies, club membership, wealth, marital status, military service, age, retirees, driving records, charitable giving, etc.

The press often discusses some of these matters such as driving records when it involves a member of the General Assembly. Seldom do they report and publish any overall picture of the General Assembly’s composition, however. For example, in 1950 three retirees served, two in 1980, but 15 in 2011-12. This unreported information is revealing and useful to know.

Information about the composition of the General Assembly may or may not influence for whom you vote. It is your choice if you wish to have all members follow one profession or to have no representation from a profession. However, if candidates for office campaign for more or less of a particular profession to be elected to the General Assembly, how can the electorate intelligently vote on that issue if they do not know the present composition of the General Assembly?

All of this discussion notwithstanding, when someone is elected to the General Assembly, voters do expect that person to minimize his biases toward any particular group and vote according to what is best for the common good. Those individuals who do this are called statesmen.

An informed electorate does not guarantee voters will vote or when they do vote, they will make wise decisions. Unquestionably, it does make them better equipped to make wiser choices when they possess up-to-date and correct information. Staying current and well informed will make all of us better citizens.