Two Utah lawmakers listed in top 10 most effective legislators lists

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Lauren Malner
The U.S. Capitol Building is located in Washington, D.C. Congress recently completed its 117th legislative session on January 3. (Lauren Malner)

The Center for Effective Lawmaking recently released its legislative effectiveness scores for the 117th Congress, listing two Utah lawmakers in the top 10 spots.

House Representative John Curtis, a BYU alumnus and former Provo mayor, was ranked ninth on the House Republican Top 10 List and Senator Mike Lee, also a BYU alumnus, was ranked eighth on the Senate Republicans Top Ten List.

The scores, according to the Center’s website, are “based on the combination of fifteen metrics regarding the bills that each member of Congress sponsors, how far they move through the lawmaking process and how substantial their policy proposals are.”

Curtis, one of the most effective House Republicans according to the article, attributes his presence on the Top Ten List to four components: listening to his constituents, a legislative mindset, a smart, hard working team and the ability to identify colleagues on both sides of the political aisle.

“My team and I came to Washington to get things done and we are always looking for opportunities to do it,” Curtis said.

Curtis credits the dedication and intelligence of his team for much of his legislative success.

“I couldn’t do it without them,” Curtis said.

Photo of Congressman John Curtis. Curtis has represented Utah’s 3rd District since 2017. (John Curtis’s official website)

As the both the House and Senate presidencies have been occupied by democrats the past two years, Curtis said there would have been no progress made had he not been able to find allies beyond his own political party.

Quin Monson, a professor of Political Science at BYU, said Curtis’ success this early into his congressional tenure is notable.

“Effectiveness and productivity in Congress are usually correlated with time and experience … Representative Curtis has cultivated a reputation as a ‘workhorse’ member of Congress — someone willing to tackle difficult issues and work to reach a solution,” Monson said. “By this measure, he’s clearly succeeding in a way that exceeds expectations for someone who has only been there since 2017.”

Additionally, BYU Political Science Professor Michael Barber said Curtis is successful because he has an affinity for lawmaking, something not all legislators share.

“Not every member of Congress, despite being in a legislature, is interested in legislating. You have a lot of members of Congress that give lots of speeches, raise lots of money and appear on TV but they don’t actually do a lot of lawmaking,” Barber said.

When it comes to Senator Lee, Monson believes Lee has been spurred into action in recent years through electoral competition.

Photo of Senator Mike Lee. Lee was elected to the Senate representing Utah in 2010. (Mike Lee’s official website)

“Early on in his career, Senator Lee developed a reputation as an ideologue and ‘show horse’ through his actions related to government shutdowns and his relationship with Utah business leaders,” Monson said. “It was clear through all of 2021 and 2022 he would face serious electoral opposition in both the primary and general elections. I suspect that led to an effort on his part to more actively and consistently engage in the legislative process in a way that would allow him to claim credit with his constituents.”

The Daily Universe reached out to representatives from Senator Mike Lee’s office for comment with no response.

BYU political science professor Jessica Preece is encouraged to see Curtis and Lee making efforts to work through the legislative process, even when Republicans aren’t in control. However, Preece, Monson and Barber all agree that the Legislative Effectiveness Scores are limited in their metrics and must be taken with a grain of salt.

“LES gives credit to members of Congress for the progress made on bills they personally sponsor, but that is just a piece of how modern lawmaking works. Important legislation work also happens through collaboration,” Preece said.

Preece emphasized that often when a piece of legislation gets stalled out in the formal process, members of Congress will add key parts as amendments or additions to other people’s bills. Many bills are the result of joint efforts between several co-sponsors, yet Congress only allows one person to be an official sponsor. The current Legislative Effectiveness Scores don’t account for any of this work.

While Legislative Effectiveness Scores factor in traditional lawmaking, what Professor Barber calls the “school house rock” approach, it fails to represent the often complicated and roundabout ways bills become law.

“It’s a pretty messy process, and the current measures that the LES uses don’t really reflect that. Professor Preece’s innovation in saying, ‘Well, maybe you don’t sponsor the bill but you get some language inside the bill that does the thing you actually care about’ is a really great insight,” Barber said. “That’s not to say these scores aren’t valuable–I think they’re a pretty good approximation–but they put a lot of weight on those who sponsor legislation that gets signed into law.”

In addition to not accounting for the messiness of lawmaking and unorthodox legislating methods, the LES also factors in how many bills a legislator introduces, even if those bills never see the light of day in committee.

Mike Lee introduced 127 bills in the last legislative session while fellow Utah senator Mitt Romney introduced 13. However, both senators had two bills passed and signed into law, but Romney did not make the list of most effective lawmakers because he did not sponsor as many.

“Mike Lee introduces all sorts of stuff, but he knows most of the bills are never going to get passed and won’t even make it to committee. He introduced 127 bills but only 12 of them were considered in committee,” Barber said.

Preece and BYU alumna Mandi Eatough, in response to the gaps in the LES metrics, have been working on a project to develop a more comprehensive measure of legislative productivity. Their lawmaking productivity metric, coined LawProM, uses advanced text analysis to account for and give credit to lawmakers who engage in collaborative lawmaking.

“As it happens, women and Black legislators are more likely to use these collaborative strategies as they try to make policy. So as a consequence, LES disproportionately undercounts their legislative effectiveness. By contrast, my measure with Mandi Eatough (“LawProM”) uses advanced text analysis to give credit for this creative and ‘unorthodox lawmaking,'” Preece said.

In the 117th Congress that concluded in January of this year, only 7% of the 17,812 proposed bills were passed. The percentage of proposed bills that eventually become law is fractional, making those legislators involved particularly significant.

Accurate metrics to identify legislative effectiveness are important in recognizing and celebrating elected representatives who complete legislation in both traditional and non-traditional ways.

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