The Good, the Bad and the Awful
We have opened with the warning above since 1977, when we first published our Good, Bad & Awful survey—an unvarnished view of the metro-area legislators who help write Oregon’s laws and shape the state’s two-year budget, now at $19 billion.
As of this writing, the end of the legislative session may still be weeks away and many hotly contested bills—most notably a proposed gas tax increase—hang in the balance. Yet it’s not too early to offer up a report card on the Legislature, one of the few in the nation that saw Democrats increase their numbers in 2014.
Among Democrats’ early-session victories: a voter registration bill that could add 300,000 new voters, and a law that will align Oregon with other states in retaining unclaimed class action lawsuit proceeds. The successes also include environmentalists’ top priority, an extension of the low-carbon fuel standard.
Of course, 2015 was a historic legislative session because former Gov. John Kitzhaber resigned abruptly Feb. 18.
After his replacement, Gov. Kate Brown, took over, Democrats finally passed a gun-control bill they’ve wanted for years and proceeded toward the implementation of legal marijuana, a process still taking shape as the July 1 date for legalization looms.
In the wake of the Kitzhaber resignation, Brown and lawmakers made lots of noise about ethics reforms but little progress. And Brown is now working to repeal the low-carbon fuel standard she recently signed into law, in exchange for a transportation funding package that includes increased gas taxes and motor vehicle fees.
Some lawmakers are gliding through the 2015 session like jewel thieves, leaving barely a fingerprint on this state; others are workhorses, worth multiples of the $22,260 annual salary (not counting per diem payments) legislators pull down.
So how have your lawmakers fared amid the blizzard of bills and avalanche of advocacy?
We surveyed Capitol lobbyists, staffers and journalists, asking them to numerically rate legislators on a scale of zero to 10 in the categories of integrity, brains and effectiveness. We received 34 responses from across the political spectrum, and a legislator’s overall rating is an average of those replies.
As always, we grant respondents anonymity. Historically, some lawmakers and readers hate that practice, claiming respondents engage in score-settling or partisan attacks, and that the survey is anything but scientific.
We acknowledge the survey is unscientific. But the ideological range of respondents makes skewing the numbers difficult, even in the face of tactics such as the Senate Democrats’ plan to stuff the ballot box this year. (They didn’t end up doing so.)
Readers also say the ratings simply reflect WW’s own views. Except we don’t get a say. It’s true our election endorsements often praise the legislators who end up at the top of the survey. But the survey also beats up on legislators we have praised. Rep. Julie Parrish (R-West Linn), for example, usually ends up at or near the bottom of the ratings. (She just missed being rated “awful” this year.) Democrats knock Parrish because she’s a Republican, and Republicans dislike her because she’s pro-choice, pro-gay marriage and self-promotional. We think her independence makes her a fine legislator.
Despite these caveats, the Good Bad & Awful issue for nearly 40 years has provided one of the best assessments of how your legislators perform in Salem.
One finding in this year’s survey is stark: The House overall looks more effective in the eyes of the survey respondents, while the Senate is increasingly ossified and adrift. On average, the scores for the Senate are well below those of the House—the first time in memory that’s happened. And all the legislators rated “awful” are in the Senate.