Legislators with high effectiveness rankings from the N.C. Center for Public Policy Research are certainly desirable, but Moore County residents would be wise to keep this year's recently announced survey results in perspective.
Both state Sen. Harris Blake and state Rep. Jamie Boles fared poorly in the center's 2009 session survey of N.C. General Assembly members. Blake, who has served as Moore County's state senator since 2003, was ranked 48th among 50 senators. Freshman Jamie Boles did not fare much better, coming in 116th among 120.
The center, it must be conceded, is a respected organization with a reputation for fairness. It is independent, nonpartisan and nonprofit, and it does not endorse candidates. The survey is taken among the legislators, registered lobbyists who work with the General Assembly and news reporters assigned to cover the state capital. Participation is described as good but, as is the case with all surveys and polls, is far from 100 percent.
Many Factors Considered
Survey participants are asked to consider each legislator's effectiveness on such things as participation in committee work, skill at guiding bills through committees and in floor debates, and general knowledge or expertise in special fields. They are also asked about the respect that legislators hold for each other, their ethics, the political power they hold, their ability to persuade and their aptitude for the legislative process.
These are excellent points, but obviously most are skewed in the direction of legislators with seniority and membership in the controlling political party. And today in Moore County, Republicans hold such power that a Democrat has little or no chance of election. But in Raleigh, the Democratic Party controls the legislature - as it has for most of the past century.
Blake, now in his fourth term, is moving toward seniority, but his Republican affiliation is an automatic mark against him in a legislature controlled by the opposition - though it must be noted that not all Republicans remain stalled in the highly partisan atmosphere. Other GOP legislators do manage to attain leadership positions and successfully steer bills through the process.
Boles Is Still New
In 2009, extenuating personal circumstances hurt Blake's ranking, and any fair assessment of the process must take that into consideration. During much of the year, his wife, Barbara, was critically ill. Her sickness and death curtailed his activities and kept him away from the Senate at a critical time. It is to his credit that he lost no more than 11 days during a period in which he deserved our sympathy.
Boles went to the state House with two marks against him: He was a Republican and it was his first year in the legislature. Boles, who missed only three days and part of a fourth, may well pull ahead in the next session as he adapts to the process and gains seniority.
From the standpoint of The Pilot, both legislators are always responsive to our news reporters. They answer or return telephone calls and take pains to answer questions. Both also are good at constituent service.
Legislators cannot satisfy everyone, especially on such controversial subjects as deer hunting with dogs. There will always be part of the constituency unhappy with their position on hot-button issues. What legislators can do is listen to their people, study the issues and try to be fair and ethical.
The rankings are cause for concern, though they deserve to be taken with a grain of salt.
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