Serving the Public in Elected Office

“What made you choose this career is what made me go into politics – a chance to serve, to make a difference. It is not just a job. It is a vocation.” 
-Tony Blair

Elected officials are political leaders at the federal, state and local levels of government.  They include presidents, prime ministers, congresspersons, governors, legislators, mayors, and county executives, among others. In some places, there are other governance systems which interact with the federal, state, and local systems. For example, in the United States, Native American tribes elect leaders, who are recognized by the federal government, despite overlapping and distinct boundaries.

The term of office for elected officials varies depending on the office. In most cases elected officials can be re-elected for more than one term. There is usually no limit on the number of terms officials elected to Congress can serve. Notably, the Office of the President of the United States is limited to two four-year terms.
Elected officials bear the responsibility as citizens’ representatives. They fulfill their promise of public service and of protecting the public trust. The media pays significant attention to elected officials to ensure that they live up to the electorate’s expectations. The public expects that their service will not be motivated by personal career and financial aspirations, but rather by an intrinsic desire to contribute to the common good. For this reason, the service of elected officials is often considered a vocation, or “calling,” inspired by an interest in public policy, compassion for others,  and commitment to the benefit of others more than personal gain.

In a democracy, any resident who meets the requirements (often determined by age and place of birth) can campaign to become an elected official. Their families often share in their commitment to public service and traditionally take on missions of their own, creating significant impact. United States First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt (1933-45), for example, successfully led the formulation of the United Nations Universal Declaration on Human Rights (1948) in the immediate post World War II period. This international agreement declares the right to life for all people, with rights to privacy, nationality, safety and security, fair trial, freedom of thought and expression, education, assembly and property. 

Notable U.S. Senators

This featured exhibit presents notable U.S. Senators, particularly those who were trailblazers in terms of racial and gender representation.

Serving the Public in Elected Office