Legislative Scorecards: Voter Beware

Jan 12, 2014

Credit motherjones.com

A recent article from the Texas Tribune offers a word of caution to voters.  Political scorecards are to politicians what consumer and auto review magazines are to car makers.  So voters, just like buying a car, it’s buyer beware.

Scorecards are easy to manipulate.  From the legislative and scoring end, outsiders creating the cards try to oversimplify a complicated process.  Insiders who don’t want to be graded, try to hide behind those complications.

For example, state lawmakers vote on the budget several times before the governor signs it.  Preliminary versions will be amended and voted on along the path to final approval.  That means a lawmaker could vote in favor of a version that is less than acceptable, knowing another version is on the way.. a version that in the end they plan on opposing.

The vote counted, depends on who the lawmaker is and what they want to tell the public. 

Scorecard makers choose only the issues that are important to them, and that make their champions look good, and the opposition look like fools.

In Texas, a good example is the squabbling over the scorecard issued by Texas Right to Life that gave low rankings to several lawmakers for their votes on end-of-life legislation favored by the group but opposed by other conservative groups focused on the same issues. 

Lots of political and legislative scorecards come out every year, and campaigns are starting to stuff mailboxes with fliers bragging of their good grades, and their opponents failures.

It’s up to voters to sort it all out.  To do their homework, find out who was giving the grade, if they agree with the grade, and in the end whether they think their legislators did a good job.

Some of the cars on the political lot are gems, and some really are lemons.

The entire article from Ross Ramsey for the Texas Tribune can be found here.