Legislators ranked

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Steve Huffman
Salisbury Post
Lorene Coates and Fred Steen, Rowan County’s members of the N.C. House of Representatives, improved in effectiveness over the past two years, according to a report released Tuesday.
The report, compiled by the N.C. Center for Public Policy Research, ranks Coates the state’s 45th most effective member of the House. Steen ranked 79th. There are 119 House members.
Two years ago, the last time a report was completed, Coates ranked 48th while Steen placed 98th.
Meanwhile, N.C. Sen. Andrew Brock, who represents all of Rowan and Davie counties, ranked dead last in effectiveness among the 50 state senators. Two years ago, Brock ranked 45th in effectiveness.
Brock laughed when contacted Tuesday to comment on the rankings. He said he figured he’d place low, but hadn’t heard of his placing until contacted by a Post reporter.
“What am I?” he asked, “about 58th out of 50?”
Brock said he figured he’d place low in part because he spoke out against former House Speaker Jim Black and state Rep. Thomas Wright, both of whom have been convicted of criminal offenses.
Black is in prison while Wright was sentenced earlier this week.
Brock noted that both had been ranked high by the Center for Public Policy in past reports.”I guess they’ll be pretty effective in jail,” Brock quipped.
He said he didn’t put much stock in the center’s rankings. Brock said he’s worked to call attention to problems in health and mental health care, neither of which, he said, would make him popular among those compiling effectiveness rankings.
“At least I try to raise the issues,” Brock said. “I don’t hide ’em under a rock.”
At 33, Brock is seeking his fourth consecutive term in the Senate. He is still the legislative branch’s youngest member.
“People back home are the ones who rate your effectiveness,” he said. “So far, they think I’m doing a pretty good job.”
Coates agreed that she doesn’t put a lot of faith in the rankings, despite the fact that she’s steadily improved since joining the House.
In 2001, Coates, a Democrat, was ranked the House’s 83rd most effective member. In 2003 she improved to 51st before moving to 48th in 2005.
“It’s just what outsiders think,” Coates said of the rankings.
Steen, a Republican, said much the same, though he also noted, “The party that’s in power is going to get the highest ranking. If the Republicans are in power the next time, I’ll probably be in the top 30, but that doesn’t mean I’ll be working any harder. You just do what you can do for your constituents.”
Still, Steen said he was proud that he advanced 19 places over the past two years.
“I’d like to move up some more,” he said. “It’s a measuring device. I sure didn’t want to see any deterioration.”
According to the center, the rankings are based on responses to surveys from legislators, registered lobbyists and members of the news media who cover state government. The center also released rankings of legislators’ attendance and roll call voting participation.
Center director Ran Coble says the center compiles three sets of rankings to give citizens different ways to evaluate the performance of the legislators.
“The rankings of attendance and voting participation tell citizens how often their legislators was there to represent them,” Coble said. “The effectiveness rankings tell citizens how effective their legislator was when he or she was there. The surveys hold a mirror up to the legislature, and the rankings are the reflection.”
Among senators, Brock was tied with three others for sixth in attendance, missing only one of 113 legislative days.
Among House members, Coates tied for 42nd in attendance, missing three of the 115 legislative days.
Steen tied for 99th with 11 absences.
Among roll call votes, Brock tied for first in the Senate, voting on all of the 1,241 issues on which he could have voted.
Coates was tied for sixth in the House, voting on 1,395 of the 1,396 issues on which she could have voted.
Steen placed 41st in the category, voting on 1,238 of the 1,243 issues on which he could have cast a ballot.
Contact Steve Huffman at 704-797-4222 or shuffman@salisburypost.com.