Tucson's legislators scored poorly 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, Tucson Districts 27, 28, and 29 had some of the lowest scores in the state. None of those districts produced a legislator with a score higher than 39 percent, which translates to an "F+" on the Institute's (rather generous) grading scale.
Although it may be small consolation to Tucson voters, Arizona's 46th Legislature scored poorly as a whole during its spring session. 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. 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, B+), and Bob Burns (R-Peoria, B). 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). East Valley Districts 18, 19 and 22 had the highest scores in the state.
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.
Tucson voters could have a big role to play in improving the performance of the Arizona legislature.
How Tucson-Area Legislators Scored
Tim Bee (R-30) Senate 59% C+
Marian McClure (R-30) House 50% C-
Jennifer Burns (R-25) House 48% D+
Steve Huffman (R-26) House 42% D-
Jorge Luis Garcia (D-27) Senate 39% F+
Victor Soltero (D-29) Senate 39% F+
Toni Hellon (R-26) Senate 38% F+
Gabrielle Giffords (D-28) Senate 34% F
Ted Downing (D-28) House 33% F
Pete Hershberger (R-26) House 33% F
Olivia Cajero Bedford (D-27) House 32% F
Linda Lopez (D-29) House 32% F
Tom Prezelski (D-29) House 28% F-
David Bradley (D-28) House 27% F-
Phil Lopes (D-27) House 27% F-