by Howard Stephenson
Each election year, some media organizations in Utah attempt to boost their ratings by evaluating the effectiveness of state legislators. In past years the Deseret Morning News has done a slip-shod effort of assigning a percentage passage rate of the various bills sponsored by each legislator during the past session, then throwing in several pages of anonymous quotes from legislators and lobbyists, freely gossiping about specific legislators.
Political amateurs really eat this stuff up, but what they don’t realize is that this type of journalism is Utah’s version of the National Enquirer. The idea that a legislator’s effectiveness is based on his percent of bills passed is like rating Olympic figure skating without adjusting for difficulty. But that would require actual mental judgment from the journalists, and apparently, they aren’t paid to do that.
But the anonymous quotes are the worst journalistic offense. There is a place for protecting sources, such as in criminal reporting when the life of the person might be in danger if the source were disclosed. But to provide a free-for-all gripe session for aggrieved lobbyists or legislators to get even with their foes is not an appropriate use of the free press.
The Rolly & Wells column is the Salt Lake Tribune’s version of the National Enquirer. The RW column does political gossip weekly, in a trickle, while the Deseret Morning News does it in a big way once or twice a year.
Useful Legislative Voting Records
This is also the season for legislative scorecards, rankings, and grades awarded by various lobbying organizations around the state. These are quite objective and provide valuable information for voters to really know how their representatives voted. The interest in these scorecards is especially high this year because it is an election year and many legislators are running for re-election or for higher office.
Included here is a compilation of the legislative voting record rankings from five different interest groups in Utah, three conservative groups and two liberal groups. I appreciate Clair Ellis of Cache County for creating this compilation and allowing me to provide it for you. Here are five the organizations whose rankings are included: Utah Grassroots is an organization which attempts to hold legislators accountable for their votes regarding issues described in Republican state and county platforms. Accountability Utah is similar to Grassroots, but considered to be extreme; exercising harsher judgment on conservative and libertarian issues than Grassroots. The Utah Taxpayers Association supports lower taxes and restraint in government spending. The Utah Education Association advocates higher taxes for education and opposes competition in the education marketplace, including tuition tax credits. Voice for Moderation is a group organized by Republicans who ought to be in the Democrat Party but would rather try to change the Republican Party to be more liberal. They oppose guns, term limits, and tuition tax credits and support fluoridation and environmental issues. Democrats receive As and Bs from this Republican group and Republicans tend to get Cs, Ds, and Fs.
If you are a political junkie, you’ll enjoy studying these rankings, and going to the websites indicated to see individual votes on each issue contained in the scorecards. In two weeks this column will contain a similar comparison for the Utah State Senate.
The Seven Most Conservative House Republicans
Seven legislators who were ranked among the twenty most conservative on all five voting records were Republican Representatives Mike Morley, Morgan Philpot, Becky Lockhart, Glen Donnelson, Mike Thompson, Merlynn Newbold and Chad Bennion.
The 13 Most Liberal House Democrats
At the opposite end of the spectrum, those 13 Democrats whose rankings fell among the twenty most liberal legislators on all five voting records were Representatives Carol Moss, Scott Daniels, Roz McGee, Pat Jones, Ralph Becker, Brent Goodfellow, Judy Buffmire, Ty McCartney, Duane Bordeaux, LuWana Shurtliff, Jackie Biskupski, Neil Hansen, and Karen Morgan.
The 13 Most Liberal House Republicans
There were 13 Republican representatives who scored in the 20 most liberal category for one or more of the ranking organizations. They included, with the number of times they were in the 20 most liberal in parenthesis, Sheryl Allen (4), Curtis Webb (3), Bud Bowman (3), David Hogue (2), Lorraine Pace (2), and with one time each in the most liberal category, John Dougall, Ann Hardy, Kory Holdaway, Eric Hutchings, Brad Johnson, Susan Lawrence, David Ure, and Peggy Wallace.
The Six Most Conservative House Democrats
The Six Democrats who fell outside the 20 most liberal category for one or more of the ranking organizations were James Gowans (3), Carl Duckworth (3), Eli Anderson (2), David Litvack (1), Brad King (1), and Neal Hendrickson (1).