About 10 years ago, when Sutherland Institute made it a part of our mission to “constructively influence Utah’s decision makers,” we were very reluctant to create a legislative scorecard. For several years our thinking was that legislative scorecards tend to be more divisive – less constructive – than helpful. Several advocacy groups in Utah use these scorecards to demonstrate how aligned a state legislator is with whatever a particular group is advocating. At the time, we didn’t feel the need at Sutherland to become just one more “critic” of the Legislature.
That said, we were pressed increasingly by citizens to create a scorecard that would reflect the conservatism of the Legislature. Sutherland is Utah’s conservative voice, and the many requests for us to somehow measure the Legislature’s conservatism didn’t seem unreasonable. Still, and to this day, Sutherland Institute is sensitive to how these scorecards can be used by others for political and partisan purposes.
Two years ago we decided to try our hand at producing a scorecard that would measure the level of conservatism at the Legislature without encouraging its misuse by others. The 2014 Legislative Scorecard is our third iteration and we feel confident that we’ve accomplished our goal.
Of course, the Utah Legislature is a conservative body in a conservative state. And for that very reason, the term “conservative” is used broadly and indiscriminately. Evidently conservative can mean anything from a champion of government-generated economic development all the way to a libertarian. The Sutherland scorecard attempts subtly to help citizens understand that conservatism has specific meaning.
For the 2014 legislative session recently concluded, 784 bills were introduced at the Legislature. Sutherland tracked nearly 50 bills as a part of our regular work and we’ve isolated 17 Senate votes and 18 House votes for our latest scorecard. Our measurement is simple: Did a legislator vote the conservative way?
Overall, the Utah Senate voted the conservative way 79 percent of the time and the Utah House of Representatives voted the conservative way 75 percent of the time. Two state senators – Mark Madsen and Margaret Dayton – received a 100 percent rating, and several members of the House received a 94 percent rating.
As I scan the Sutherland scorecard, there remain issues that tend to stump even the most conservative legislators. One of those issues is education. The teacher’s union remains a political force in the state, and any bill designed to give parents more voice and students more innovation often receives the opposition of the public school establishment. The other big issue that distracts legislators from a routinely conservative viewpoint is economic development. During this last session, many otherwise conservative legislators voted to subsidize the construction of a new hotel and conference center in downtown Salt Lake City.
The good news is that other conservative issues such as transparency and budget reforms received overwhelming support. All but one of many transparency bills passed with little opposition, and two important budget reform bills designed to rein in spending passed unanimously.
God bless the Utah Legislature. So many political pressures exist today to expand government that Utahns should count our blessings for this conservative body.
For Sutherland Institute, I’m Paul Mero. Thanks for listening.
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