Rankings of N.C. Legislators Illustrates Power Shift
The ratings on your legislators are out. Based on surveys of registered lobbyists, Capitol-based reporters and the legislators themselves, the North Carolina Center for Public Policy Research compiles relative effectiveness ratings on every legislator.
Folks like me, and others who try to follow the "inside" politics care a lot. The ratings measure the perceived ability of legislators to "get things done" inside the legislature. If you want to get a new law passed or funding for a state program, it is a good idea to get help from someone who has earned reputation for effectiveness.
But do you care what grade your legislator got?
Most people at home do not care as much as I do. You probably care more about whether or not your legislator's political views are closer to yours than are those of his or her opponent in the next election.
Or whether or not your legislator is accessible and tries to help you and your community in dealings with state government.
Or whether or not your like and admire your legislator as a "good person."
The folks who care the most about these ratings are the legislators themselves. They will deny my assertion, but, like you and me, they care about any grade or rating put on them, and they want to make the "highest grade" they can.
So who are the most effective legislators? The center rates them from very highest to very lowest.
In the state Senate, the 10 most effective in order are Marc Basnight (D-Dare), Tony Rand (D-Cumberland), David Hoyle (D-Gaston), Linda Garrou (D-Forsyth), Dan Clodfelter (D-Mecklenburg), Martin Nesbit (D-Buncombe), Fletcher Hartsell (R-Cabarrus), A.B. Swindell (D-Nash), Bill Purcell (D-Scotland), and Clark Jenkins (D-Edgecombe).
Basnight, who has led the Senate as long as most people can remember, has led the rankings for 20 years. Seniority counts. Every one of the 10, except Clark Jenkins, has been elected to the legislature for at least five terms. Jenkins is in his fourth term. It usually takes several terms to break into top effectiveness ratings. However, this year a first-term senator, Josh Stein, ranked 19, ahead of 31 other senators, many of whom have served much longer.
Party counts, too. The only Republican in the 10 is Fletcher Hartsell, whose seniority and wisdom, together with his willingness and ability to work with the Democrats in control, has made him very effective.
In the House, the 10 most effective in order are Joe Hackney (D-Orange), Bill Owens (D-Pasquotank), Mickey Michaux (D-Durham), Hugh Holliman (D- Davidson), Rick Glazer (D-Cumberland), Jim Crawford (D-Granville), Pryor Gibson (D-Anson), William Wainwright (D-Craven), Deborah Ross (D-Wake), and Skip Stam (R-Wake).
All except Rick Glazer have been elected to at least five terms. Party also counts in the Democratic-controlled House. Only the very active Republican minority leader, Skip Stam, cracked the top 10.
To highlight the importance of political party, compare this year's rankings of some of the Republican members of the House with their highest ranking during the 1995-1997 period, when they were in control. Harold Brubaker (R-Randolph) was ranked 1, now 18. Leo Daughtry (R-Johnston) was ranked 2, now 63. Robert Grady (R-Onslow) 11, now 83. Julia Howard (R-Davie) then 17, now 36. If the Republicans should win the House in this year's elections, some of these rankings would switch again.
The effectiveness of legislators ebbs and rises from day to day. No rating system is perfect. But the Center's rankings, which have been a part of North Carolina political life for 30 years, are a valuable service-especially for legislators, who have to remember that their work is being graded systematically.
And that report cards are going to be sent home.
D.G. Martin, author of "Interstate Eateries," is hosting his final season of UNC-TV's "North Carolina Bookwatch," which airs Sundays at 5 p.m. This Sunday's (April 11) guest is Howard Lee, author of "The Courage to Lead."
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