Legislators Flunk in Institute Report

Posted on October 07, 2003 | Type: In the News
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Goldwater Institute says two vote against individual liberties

A conservative think tank says some of Tempe's state legislators aren't making the grade.

A recent legislative report card released by the Goldwater Institute gave the Arizona Senate an average ranking of D+ and the House of Representatives an average ranking of D.

Two Tempe Democrats were on the lists of the five lowest-ranking ranking senators and representatives. Sen. Harry Mitchell received an F ranking, and Rep. Meg Burton Cahill received an F-.

Legislators were scored based on their voting records on 191 bills in four categories: education, constitutional government, regulation and fiscal policy. Points were awarded or subtracted based on whether a vote promoted limited government, individual liberty and individual responsibility.

One point was awarded for every vote a legislator cast that lessened the burden on individual liberties, and one point was subtracted anytime a vote inhibited liberties by creating "unnecessary legislation."

Despite her low score, Burton Cahill said she believes her voting record does support the principles of liberty and her constituents' wishes.

"I have had several calls from constituents saying they are proud of my F-," Burton Cahill said.

Mitchell did not return calls for comment.

Satya Thallam, fiscal policy analyst for the Goldwater Institute and author of the report, said that because the state legislature is directly accountable to citizens, constituents are responsible for keeping track of their legislators' actions.

However, with more than 1,000 bills introduced every session, it can be difficult to know exactly what individual legislators are doing.

"We hope this is an important step in increased accountability," Thallam said.

While Burton Cahill said she agrees that legislators should be held accountable for their actions, she questions the Goldwater Institute's criteria for grading legislators.

"They believe less government spending is key ... I don't see the logic to that at all," Burton Cahill said.

She added that the government should not micromanage its citizens, but not all regulations are negative. Government regulations can promote liberty by giving individuals the tools they need to reach their fullest potential, she said.

For example, Burton Cahill said she views bills that increase school funding and assistance to students as positive regulations.

"What we leave behind are students who can't fund their education on their own, and that pulls society down," Burton Cahill said.

The Goldwater Institute's criteria for grading educational votes subtract points from legislators who cast votes that "burdened taxpayers without foreseeable improvements through competition or accountability."

Additionally, both Burton Cahill and Mitchell have received recognition from the League of Cities for promoting cities' rights.

The Goldwater Institute recognizes that not everyone agrees with its principles, but hopes that will not stop others from holding legislators accountable for their actions, Thallam said.

"We realize not everyone will hold the same ideas ... I hope this would encourage other groups to create similar report cards," he said.

Burton Cahill also encouraged constituents to communicate with their legislators and keep them accountable for their actions.

"My job is to represent, but my constituents' job is to communicate with me ... If I'm not voting the way my constituents believe, I should be voted out of office," she said.

Reach the reporter at amanda.keim@asu.edu.  

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