A web developer at the Sunlight Foundation has pulled together an interesting interactive that measures current state lawmakers’ partisanship and their success passing legislation.
Thom Neale, the developer, used two methodologies to plot the graphic, which he explains in detail in his blog post. Naturally, some will quibble with his chosen data points, particularly on lawmakers’ success rate of getting bills enacted and signed into law. Neale attempted to toss out “theatrical” legislation from his calculation by awarding more points to lawmakers who received affirmative votes in the chamber other than their own and bills signed by the governor. Given that Gov. Paul LePage set a record in vetoes over the past legislative session there are likely going to be some lawmakers who feel like Neale’s formula shortchanges their efforts.
There may be less complaining about his ideology calculation. Neal uses a metric called ideal point estimation, a measurement common in political science. To employ a dumbed-down explanation, ideal point estimation basically uses the frequency of bipartisan votes to establish the center of the chart. Democratic lawmakers who sometimes vote with Republicans and vice versa will appear toward the middle. Those who only vote with their party, or against the opposing party, will be on the far left or far right of the graph.
Those who follow the Legislature won’t be surprised at the results in the ideology visualization. For example, Republican Reps. Corey Wilson and Matthew Pouliot appear less partisan than, say, Rep. Ricky Long, R-Sherman, whose toes are figuratively dangling off the far right of the X-axis (Portland Democrat Peter Stuckey is doing the same on the left). The result makes sense given that Wilson and Pouliot occasionally voted with the Democratic majority, including on bills to pass Medicaid expansion.
Rep. Terry Hayes, of Buckfield, appears as the Democratic equivalent of the moderate. Again, anyone who knows Hayes will agree that this computes with reality. Not only did she co-sponsor a Republican bill dubbed as a right-to-work legislation and vote against a measure that would have terminated the infamous Alexander Group contract, she’s also a supporter of independent gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler.
Flipping the visualization over to the state Senate yields similar results. There’s Sen. Tom Saviello, R-Wilton, (supported Medicaid expansion, eliminating tax breaks for the wealthy), Auburn Democrat John Cleveland, (helped broker a bipartisan energy bill in 2013) and independent Sen. Dick Woodbury, of Yarmouth, all in the middle of the graphic.
It’s also interesting to see that Senate President Justin Alfond, D-Portland, appears as one of the more partisan members of the chamber. However, he’s also one of the more successful in getting legislation passed. Conversely, Republican minority leader Sen. Michael Thibodeau, of Winterport, is one of the more partisan members of the chamber and least successful getting legislation passed.
Of course, none of the data used here accounts for some of the horsetrading and other negotiations that may not leave a lawmaker’s fingerprints, but often factor into the passage of a bill.