Hitting Above Average

Posted on September 28, 2003 | Type: Op-Ed | Author: Satya Thallam
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Special to the Tribune

The East Valley's legislators scored well on the Goldwater Institute's 2003 Legislative Report Card, which grades legislators according to their commitment to free markets, limited government, rule of law, individual liberty, and individual responsibility.

In fact, East Valley Districts 18, 19 and 22 had the highest averages for the state. With one exception, none of those districts produced a legislator with a score lower than 60 percent, which translates to an "B-" on the Institute's (rather generous) grading scale.

East Valley Lawmakers

Thayer Verschoor (R-Gilbert) Senate  78%  A-

Eddie Farnsworth (R-Gilbert) House  71%  A-

Russell Pearce (R-Mesa) House  69%  B+

Marilyn Jarrett (R-Mesa) Senate  67%  B+

Karen Johnson (R-Mesa) House  67%  B+

Andy Biggs (R-Gilbert) House  66%  B

Mark Anderson (R-Mesa) Senate  62%  B-

Chuck Gray (R-Mesa) House  60%  B-

Gary Pierce (R-Mesa) House  58%  C+

Scottsdale's legislators were more of a mixed bag, ranging from a B- for Rep. Colette Rosati to a D+ for Sen. Carolyn Allen. The Scottsdale delegation had a C average overall.

Scottsdale Lawmakers

Colette Rosati (R-Scottsdale) House  62%  B-

Ray Barnes (R-Phoenix) House  61%  B-

John Allen (R-Scottsdale) House  56%  C

Michelle Reagan (R-Scottsdale) House  52%  C-

Jim Waring (R-Phoenix) Senate  50%  C-

Carolyn Allen (R-Scottsdale) Senate  47%  D+

As a whole, Arizona's 46th Legislature scored much lower during the spring session than the delegations from Mesa, Gilbert, and Scottsdale. The Senate and the House of Representatives both scored under 50 percent, meaning that legislators cast more bad votes than good ones. Indeed, probability suggests that Arizonans would have been better served if legislators had simply flipped coins on every vote.

Based on an analysis of 191 votes in the areas of education, constitutional government, regulation, and fiscal policy, the Goldwater report card finds that the 46th Legislature has demonstrated a weak commitment to the principles of a free society. Low points included increasing the state's budget during a recession, failing to pass a spending limit, failing to expand school choice, slapping dozens of unnecessary and harmful regulations on Arizona businesses and citizens, and committing future legislatures to spending tens of millions of dollars a year.

Despite this generally negative picture, there were some high points. Legislators relaxed certification requirements for school personnel, placed hurdles in front of municipalities attempting to abuse the power of eminent domain, and sent to the ballot a referendum requiring voter spending initiatives to identify revenue sources sufficient to cover costs.

Several legislators proved to be strong allies in the struggle against expanding government. Of the five highest-scoring senators, two were from the East Valley: Thayer Verschoor (R-Gilbert, A-) and Marilyn Jarrett (R-Mesa, B+). The others were Jack Harper (R-Deer Valley, A-), Dean Martin (R-Phoenix, B+), and Bob Burns (R-Peoria, B). Of the top five representatives, four are from the East Valley: Eddie Farnsworth (R-Gilbert, A-), Russell Pearce (R-Mesa, B+), Karen Johnson (R-Mesa, B+), and Andy Biggs (R-Gilbert, B). The fifth was Randy Graf (R-Green Valley, B).

Scores tended to break down along party lines, with the Republican majority generally scoring higher than the Democratic minority. The average score for Senate Republicans was 18 percentage points higher than that for Senate Democrats, and the average for House Republicans was 23 percentage points higher than that for House Democrats.

However, there were a few notable outliers. Republican Senators Toni Hellon (Tucson), Slade Mead (Phoenix), Linda Binder (Lake Havasu) and Carolyn Allen (Scottsdale) scored below the overall mean for the Senate, and Representatives Pete Hershberger (Tucson), James Carruthers (Yuma), Tom O'Halleran (Sedona), Steve Huffman (Tucson), Deb Gullett (Phoenix) and Bill Wagner III (Bullhead City) scored below the overall mean for the House.

In response to low scores, some legislators may contend that they voted the way their constituents wanted them to. But with low voter turnout, incumbency rates well above 90 percent, and aggressive special-interest lobbying, it is highly unlikely that elected representatives actually vote the way their constituents would want. Indeed, with close to a thousand bills introduced each session, it is very difficult for constituents to keep track of what their legislators are doing.

The silver lining in this report card is that average legislative scores are within earshot of the 50-percent mark. The replacement of a few legislators-or the modification of their voting patterns-could push overall legislative performance into positive territory. Meanwhile, Scottsdale and East Valley legislators should work hard to keep their lead. 

--Satya Thallam is fiscal policy analyst at the Goldwater Institute.

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