An old proverb holds that half a loaf is better than none. But what do you do with less than half a loaf?
That's the problem Arizona voters face when they look at the performance of the 46th Legislature during the spring session. In the Goldwater Institute's 2003 Legislative Report Card, we find that Senate and the House of Representatives both scored under 50 percent, meaning that on the whole the legislature 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 limited government, individual liberty, and individual responsibility. 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 several wins for liberty. 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. The five highest-scoring senators were Thayer Verschoor (R-Gilbert, A-), Jack Harper (R-Deer Valley, A-), Dean Martin (R-Phoenix, B+), Marilyn Jarrett (R-Mesa), and Bob Burns (R-Peoria). The top five representatives were Eddie Farnsworth (R-Gilbert, A-), Russell Pearce (R-Mesa, B+), Karen Johnson (R-Mesa, B+), Andy Biggs (R-Gilbert, B), and Randy Graf (R-Green Valley, B).
The five lowest-scoring senators were Gabrielle Giffords (D-Tucson, F), Harry Mitchell (D-Tempe, F), Bill Brotherton (D-Phoenix, F+), Toni Hellon (R-Tucson, F+) and Richard Miranda (D-Phoenix, F+). The seven lowest-scoring representatives were David Bradley (D-Tucson, F-), Phil Lopes (D-Tucson, F-), Meg Burton-Cahill (D-Tempe, F-), Ken Clark (D-Phoenix, F-), Jack Jackson, Jr. (D-Window Rock, F-), John Loredo (D-Phoenix, F-) and Tom Prezelski (D-Tucson, F-).
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. And the late Senator Barry Goldwater had the final word about constituent interests: "[I]f I should? be attacked for neglecting my constituents 'interests,' I shall reply that I was informed that their main interest is liberty and that in that cause I am doing the very best I can."
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. Arizonans who believe in a limited government and individual liberty should remain vigilant and active. Let's see if we can get at least half a loaf.
--Satya Thallam is fiscal policy analyst at the Goldwater Institute.