Some surprises in RI Rank’s first annual overall rankings of legislatorsOn Monday, RI Rank released its long-awaited 2020 Overall Legislator Rankings. The purpose of the rankings is to “enforce accountability of our elected officials by providing information about their votes and outreach that is easy to understand and act on.” RI Rank assesses the performance of General Assembly members based on their voting records as collected by non-partisan organizations, voter
Published on June 16, 2020
By Steve Ahlquist
On Monday, RI Rank released its long-awaited 2020 Overall Legislator Rankings. The purpose of the rankings is to “enforce accountability of our elected officials by providing information about their votes and outreach that is easy to understand and act on.”
RI Rank assesses the performance of General Assembly members based on their voting records as collected by non-partisan organizations, voter surveys, and their own independent tests to inform voters where elected officials stand on issues such as civil rights, open government, and constituent outreach.
To score legislators, their votes are compared to the positions held by the Rhode Island ACLU, Common Cause Rhode Island and the Environmental Council of Rhode Island. These are three organizations with a “non-partisan history of fighting for the public good.”
Full disclosure: RI Rank is the sister site of Uprise RI, but although Uprise RI is a progressive news org, RI Rank strives to maintain a church/state relationship with Uprise RI, free of bias towards any ideology or party. Steve Ahlquist (that’s me), editor and reporter at Uprise RI, has no influence on the metrics used at RI Rank. RI Rank intentionally chose a data scientist from out of state to map out scoring and methodology for these rankings.
On a related note, RI Rank intentionally forgoes party affiliation in any of its rankings charts. Executive Director, Greg Brailsford explained, “Displaying a legislator’s party simply re-enforces tribal politics. This project is not intended to demonstrate that Republicans or Democrats are better legislators than the other. Our purpose is to get lawmakers more in tune with what their constituents want, because ultimately that is who they represent.”
RI Rank explains on their website: “Our rankings are not based on opinion, but rather the actions of each legislator. The information we’re presenting here has always been publicly available, but now all of it – including helpful contact links – has been compiled and presented in a single place.”
So, how did the members of the General Assembly fare? The numbers are surprising. In the Senate, Samuel Bell (Democrat, District 5, Providence) topped the list, followed by Senators Gayle Goldin (Democrat, District 3, Providence), Melissa Murray (Democrat, District 24, North Smithfield, Woonsocket), Maryellen Goodwin (Democrat, District 1, Providence) and Jessica de la Cruz (Republican, District 23, Burrillville, Glocester).
A closer look at the numbers reveals some interesting things. Senator Bell’s overall score is 75.5 out of 100, Senator Goldin’s overall score is 54.7 of a a possible 100. Obviously, there is much room for improvement on even these top scores.
Over in the House, Representative Terri-Denise Cortvriend (Democrat, District 72, Portsmouth) took the top honors, followed by Representatives Marcia Ranglin-Vassell (Democrat, District 5, Providence), Moira Walsh (Democrat, District 3, Providence), Rebecca Kislak (Democrat, District 4, Providence) and Brian Newberry (Republican, District 48, North Smithfield).
Again, the scores reflect much needed improvement, even among the front runners, with Cortvriend receiving a score of 65.4 out of 100.
Those at the bottom of the rankings also deserve some attention. In the Senate, Mark McKenney (Democrat, District 30, Warwick), Leonidas Raptakis (Democrat, District 33, East Greenwich) and Gordon Rogers (Republican, District 21, Coventry, Foster Scituate, West Greenwich) took the last three spots, while in the House, Representatives Thomas Noret (Democrat, District 25, Coventry), Speaker Nicholas Mattiello (Democrat, District 15, Cranston) and Jose Serodio (Democrat, District 64, East Providence) come in last.
Brailsford explained there are multiple ways in which legislators can score well: “We spent an enormous amount of time ensuring that our scoring properly rewarded legislators that have a great relationship with their voters – even in cases where their votes were often on the opposite end of the ACLU and Common Cause position. Senator Jessica de la Cruz is a good example of this – her voting record did not fare well in our metrics, but when it comes to constituent outreach, few are more engaged. As a result this alone significantly improved her score, as it was designed to.”
Included in the rankings chart are the number of years in office, complete contact information, and links for each legislator’s social media pages, so voters can reach out and present their feedback on the important issues of the day. All of the charts are fully mobile compatible. The organization intends to add more informational columns in the future involving campaign fundraising and pledges signed.
One additional metric included, Election Strength, is informational and doesn’t add or subtract from a legislator’s score. “This metric measures how competitive a legislator’s past elections have been and their margin of victory when opposed. Higher numbers indicate greater margins of victory, especially in recent races. Lower scores indicate uncontested elections and/or low margins of victory.”
Essentially, this score provides a place to start thinking about how hard it might be to replace a low performing legislator, if you feel that getting your lawmaker to improve is a hopeless task.
For the full rankings of the House and Senate, visit RIRank.com.
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