Understanding the word “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, the United States House of Representatives. There are also six non-voting members elected to the US House to represent Washington, DC, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, and the US Virgin Islands. There are 100 elected voting members of the upper, the United States Senate.  The Vice-President of the United States also serves as President of the Senate and, in the event of a tie vote, casts the tie-breaking vote. 

The bi-cameral Colorado state legislature is referred to as the “Colorado General Assembly.” There are 65 elected voting members of the lower chamber, the Colorado House of Representatives. There are 35 elected members of the upper chamber, the Colorado Senate.

The Colorado state legislature is never accurately referred to as “state Congress.” Why? Because “Congress” refers to our federal legislature. Calling the General Assembly “state Congress” would be contradictory. It would literally refer to a “state federal” legislature, which doesn’t exist.

Using the word “Congressman” or “Congresswoman” to refer to a member of our state legislature would be like calling the chief executive of the federal government the “Mayor of the United States” or the governor of Colorado the “President of Colorado.” President, governor, and mayor are all titles assigned to the chief executive of a certain level of government, but those titles are not interchangeable. Each of those titles designates 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. Each of those titles also designates the level of government: federal, state, or municipal.

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.

** The information provided herein is intended for general educational purposes only and is not legal advice. If you have questions of a legal nature, please consult with an attorney.

** Civics Corner content was written with the help of former Senate Majority Leader Chris Holbert.

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