Words Mean Things: Congress
It is common for people to refer to members of the Colorado General Assembly as “Congressman” or ‘Congresswoman.” Please note that is incorrect. In American government, the word “Congress” refers to the bi-cameral federal legislature.
There are 435 elected voting members of the lower chamber of Congress, the United States House of Representatives. There are also an assortment of elected, non-voting members of the US House who represent Washington, DC; Guam; the US Virgin Islands; and, a few other US territories.
There are 100 elected voting members of the upper chamber of Congress, the United States Senate. In addition, the Vice-President of the United States serves as President of the Senate and who, upon a tie vote, casts a tie-breaking vote as the 101st member.
The bi-cameral Colorado state legislature is referred to as the “Colorado General Assembly.”
There are 65 elected voting members of the lower chamber of our General Assembly, the Colorado House of Representatives. There are 35 members of the upper chamber of our General Assembly, the Colorado Senate.
The state legislature is never accurately referred to as “state Congress.” Why? Because “Congress” refers to our federal legislature. Calling the General Assembly “Congress” is contradictory. That literally means a state federal legislature, which doesn’t exist.
Using the word “Congress” to refer to a state legislature is like calling the chief executive of the federal government “Mayor of the United States.” Nope. That person is the President of the United States. Or, calling the Governor of Colorado the “President of Colorado.” Nope, that person is the Governor.
President, Governor, and Mayor are all titles assigned to the chief executive of a certain level of government, but those titles are not interchangeable. They actually designate the level of government: federal, state, or municipal. Much the same, the labels Congress, General Assembly, and City/Town Council refer to elected policy making bodies at the federal, state, and municipal levels of government.
In some states, the legislature might be called the “House of Delegates” and members referred to as “delegates.” In other states, the titles of “Assemblyman” and “Assemblywomen” are used. Here in Colorado, we use the titles “Representative” and “Senator” to address the members of our bi-cameral state legislature, the Colorado General Assembly.
At the federal level, all members of the US House and US Senate are members of Congress. The word “Congress” doesn’t mean the lower chamber, it refers to both chambers.
However, members of the US House generally like the titles of “Congressman” or “Congresswoman” as opposed to “Representative.” Why? Because it equalizes them with the members of the US Senate. Meanwhile, members of the US Senate generally prefer the title of “Senator” rather than “Congressman” or “Congresswoman.” Why? Because it sets them apart from the other 435 members of Congress.
It’s common to hear reference to “Congressmen and Senators.” That’s OK… but it technically means all 535 members of Congress and… for some reason… mentioning the 100 members of the upper chamber a second time.
Oh, and you can call me, “Chris” because I work so hard at just being me.
Written by Senator Chris Holbert, a member of the Colorado General Assembly, Senate District 30.