There are around 4,000 state legislators in the U.S. They are the elected representatives who make the important public policy decisions that affect our lives at the state level. Of those 4,000 elected state officials, 64 are certified public accountants (CPAs).
In Texas, we have five CPAs serving in our state legislature. In the state Senate, they are Senator Tommy Williams, and in the state House of Representatives, they are Angie Chen Button, John Otto, Charles Perry and Raul Torres. In Texas, there are 31 state senators and 150 members of the
House. So we are slightly higher than the national average for CPAs in our legislature.
Currently, there is one state governor who is a CPA (Michigan) and one lieutenant governor (Ohio). At the national level, there are eight CPAs serving in the U.S. Congress – all in the House of Representatives. Two of those are from Texas – Mike Conaway from Midland and Bill Flores from
I recently had the opportunity to attend an AICPA Conference where there was a panel of five state legislators who are also CPAs. One of them was our own John Otto from Dayton, Texas. The others were from Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri and Wisconsin. They shared their personal stories about what motivated them to seek elected office and the demands it makes on their lives and their families. Clearly none of them sought public office for the remuneration, as the pay for serving is not significant. As a Texas legislator, John Otto won the prize for “least paid” at $600 a month. Texas truly does have a “citizen” legislature.
Each CPA legislator on the panel talked about the high level of respect they receive from their fellow legislators because they are CPAs. The CPA designation is held in high esteem and gives them an automatic credibility level to discuss issues that involve finance and taxes. They also discussed the lack of understanding that many of their fellow non-CPA legislators have about such matters. One talked about how a legislator in his state who chaired the committee involved with setting the state budget had never heard of the term GAAP. So they have learned to never assume that other legislators have the same level of understanding that they do because of their background and training as CPAs.
While serving in office is a huge commitment of time and energy on their part, all of the CPA legislators felt it was an extremely worthwhile experience, and they welcomed and hoped that other CPAs would also pursue elected office. With most states currently facing financial challenges or crises, having more CPAs involved in the legislative process would be a good thing for our states and for our country. My hat is off to John Otto and all the other CPA legislators who serve. They are certainly making a difference for our democracy. Let’s hope we will see more CPAs join their ranks in the future.