Saturday, November 19, 2011

Don't Throw Those Out: The Travesty of Eliminating Political Records

As someone who is writing an extensive book on Senate campaigns using archival materials, this story about Governor Romney's disposal of gubernatorial records is disturbing. See here.

Yes, Governor Romney abided by state law. And yes, Governor Romney did preserve some of those records and sent them on to the state archives. But in the end, posterity and history have lost. The State of Massachusetts should establish clearer and firmer guidelines on the preservation of political records, similar to those established by the United States Senate and the United States House. These materials are absolutely invaluable to the researcher, and essential for government transparency. Issues of privacy can be easily worked out by establishing clear restrictions on particular types of materials and closing such records for an extended period of time.

How can we ever hope to learn from our mistakes and successes if we aren't allowed to study them?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Legislative Effectiveness: Moving Beyond Bill Sponsorships

This past spring, I tried to answer the knotty question of legislative effectiveness. Both Congressman Rehberg and Senator Tester have spent—and will continue to spend—a considerable amount of time making the case that they are more effective than the other. The question, of course, is critical to answering the question of who best represents Montana in the ways in which they do their Washington work. What is interesting, of course, is both have records as incumbent legislators which only further serves to muddle the picture for the average voter.

My earlier analysis focused purely on bills sponsored by Rehberg and Tester, and what was the “final disposition” of that legislation. I put “final disposition” in quotes because the measure of final disposition I used whether the law as sponsored achieved an up/down vote on the either the Senate or House floor and became law. It is this analysis that became the basis for my recent comments in the Bozeman Chronicle which suggested that neither Senator Tester nor Congressman Rehberg have particularly distinguished legislative records. And, as I pointed out in my initial blog, it is really hard for freshmen legislators in the Senate to establish a long record and the rule of seniority makes it hard for individual House members to stand out from their colleagues.

The problem with that metric and my comments as they were reported, however, is that they provide an incomplete picture of both Senator Tester and Congressman Rehberg’s legislative record. Legislative ideas have lots of ways of wending their way through the process and becoming law. The main thrust of a sponsored bill can get wrapped up into another bill, or the idea in a piece of sponsored legislation can be tacked onto another vehicle through an amendment. Unfortunately, these other vehicles are hard to easily quantify and measure.

In short, looking at bill sponsorships and whether the bill got voted on may not be the best way to determine legislative effectiveness. As a recent press release from the Tester campaign points out, with fewer bills being passed each year, legislative ideas are increasingly emerging in longer omnibus style legislation—particularly in the Senate.

In a press release dated November 7, 2011, the Tester campaign put out a fairly comprehensive list of Senator Tester’s legislative record to date. Note that most of the legislation initiated by Senator Tester became public law by either amendment or being rolled up into other legislative vehicles. According to this press release, then, Senator Tester’s legislative record is much more robust than looking at sponsorship patterns alone. I reproduce the press release from Senator Tester’s campaign below for your review:

Key legislation by Sen. Jon Tester now public law

The following is a partial list of bills and amendments either authored or co-written by Sen. Jon Tester that are now Public Law. Since 2007, Congress has often incorporated smaller legislation into larger bills, thus resulting in fewer “stand alone” bills being signed into law.


The Disabled Veterans Fairness Act of 2007 (S.994): Nearly quadrupled the VA’s mileage reimbursement rate for disabled veterans—the first increase in 30 years. Included in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2008 (Pubic Law No. 110-161).

Rural Veterans Health Care Improvement Act (S.658): Made numerous improvements to health care benefits for veterans in rural states like Montana. Included in the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act (S.1963, Public Law No. 111-163).

Project Access Received Closer to Home (ARCH) for Veterans (part of Rural Veterans Health Care Improvement Act): Expands access to VA health care in rural areas. Included in the Veterans’ Mental Health and Other Care Improvements Act of 2008 (Public Law No. 110-387).

Amendment requiring an investigation and report to Congress on the vulnerabilities of America’s northern border (S.Amdt 3117): Part of the Improving America’s Security Act of 2007 (Public Law No. 110-53).

Project SHAD Veterans Health Care (S.2937): Provides VA care to participants of the military’s Shipboard Hazard and Defense program. Included in the Veterans’ Mental Health and Other Care Improvements Act of 2008 (Public Law No. 110-387).

Veterans’ Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act of 2011 (S.894): Resulted in a cost-of-living increase in veterans’ benefits. Awaiting enactment.


Delisting Gray Wolves to Restore State Management Act (S.321): Removed Montana’s gray wolves from the Endangered Species Act and returned their management to the State of Montana. Included in the Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act of 2011 (Public Law No. 112-10).

Wolf Livestock Loss Mitigation Act (“Wolf Kill Bill”) (S.2875): Reimburses ranchers whose animals are killed by wolves; improves wolf kill prevention measures. Included in the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009 (S.22, Public Law No. 111-11).

Preservation of the Second Amendment in National Parks and National Wildlife Refuges Act (S.816): Allows law-abiding Americans to transport firearms through national parks. Included in the Credit Card Accountability and Disclosure (CARD) Act of 2009 (Public Law No. 111-24).

Cooperative Watershed Management Act (S.3085): Improves management of clean water resources through collaborative input from local stakeholders. Included in the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009 (S.22, Public Law No. 111-11).


Amendment ending a $25/week bonus in government benefits, resulting in a savings of $6 billion for taxpayers: Part of the Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization and Job Creation Act of 2010 (Public Law 111-312).

Universal Default Prohibition Act of 2009 (S.399): Prohibits credit card companies from unfairly changing terms on customers. Included in the Credit Card Accountability and Disclosure (CARD) Act of 2009 (Public Law No. 111-24).


Biofuel Crop Insurance Pilot Program (S.1242): Established a crop insurance program for farmers who grow biofuel crops, such as camelina. Included in the Farm Bill of 2008 (Public Law No. 110-246).

Amendment removing family farmers and small food producers from federal regulations they don’t need and can’t afford: Part of the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (Public Law No. 111-353).


Amendment requiring Amtrak to examine the feasibility of restoring the North Coast Hiawatha route through southern Montana: Part of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act (Public Law 110-432).

Amendment guaranteeing at least 20 percent public health grants goes to rural communities: Part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Public Law No. 111-148).


Tribal Law and Order Act of 2009 (S.797): Improves law enforcement and prosecution of criminal activity in Indian Country. Public Law No. 111-211.

Crow Tribe Water Rights Settlement Act of 2009 (S.375): Ratified the Crow Tribe’s longstanding water rights settlement. Included in the Claims Resolution Act of 2010 (Public Law No. 111-291).

Finally, Senator Tester just came off an important legislative victory. On Thursday, the day before Veteran's Day, the Senator shepherded the passage of a significant veterans jobs bill, which combined his own veterans' jobs proposals and tax credits recently proposed in the President's American Jobs Act. Tester's VOW to Hire Heroes Act passed 95-0. This is an important accomplishment for the Senator, one for which he is justifiably proud.

In a separate blog, I will discuss Congressman Rehberg's legislative accomplishments that go beyond the bills he's sponsored. The take away message I want my readers to have is that the ways political scientists measure legislative effectiveness--such as looking at sponsorship patterns and whether those sponsored measures move directly to a floor vote--are incomplete metrics and do not tell the whole story of a legislator's effectiveness.