Politics & Elections

RI Rank: Rhode Island’s top legislators are both independent and accountable

It should surprise no one that legislators who have had to run against challengers are more responsive to the needs and wants of their community and less responsive to the needs and wants of leadership and lobbyists. A legislator who simply walks into the job unchallenged doesn’t have to do the work of advocating for their voters. Instead they can focus on amassing gigantic campaign war chests.
Photo for RI Rank: Rhode Island’s top legislators are both independent and accountable

Published on January 5, 2022
By Steve Ahlquist

There are two big takeaways from RI Rank‘s just released 2021 Overall General Assembly rankings:

  1. Voting to hold bills for further study can hurt an otherwise good legislator’s standing; and,
  2. A legislator’s election strength seems to correlate to how well they do in the rankings.

RI General Assembly 2021 Overall Rankings

When a legislator sits in a committee and votes to hold a bill for further study, most of the time that is the end of the bill. The bill is not truly studied or revised – it simply disappears until the next session, usually to be sent into that “further study” limbo again and again. Holding bills for further study is simply a way to get rid of legislation inconvenient to the goals of House and Senate leadership and avoiding the political consequences of not passing good legislation.

An honest vote on the merits of the bill means declaring a position on an issue – in a way that means much more than empty rhetoric. It’s easy to SAY one is opposed to the continuing evil of the high interest imposed by payday loan companies, it’s another thing entirely to actually VOTE to eliminate these interest rates. Very few legislators want to vote for the continued financial abuse of poor communities where payday lenders prey – but the payday loan industry has powerful lobbyists and deep claws into the General Assembly leadership – so it’s best to simply make the issue go away.

The second takeaway is election strength. The election strength ranking is informational only and plays no part in a legislator’s overall ranking. That said, it is based on how a legislator has performed in recent elections. It takes into account margins of victory and whether or not the legislator actually had an opponent.

It should surprise no one that legislators who have had to run against challengers are more responsive to the needs and wants of their community and less responsive to the needs and wants of leadership and lobbyists. A legislator who simply walks into the job unchallenged doesn’t have to do the work of advocating for their voters. Instead they can focus on amassing gigantic campaign war chests.

I will note here that the redistricting process is drawing maps favorable to incumbents, so someone with a low election strength score, like Senate President Dominick Ruggerio, has been able to bolster his re-election odds. These literal backroom machinations, taking place in the State House sub-basement away from the prying eyes of public and press pr more evidence of why we need legislators who are able to stand up to leadership and demand more openness and accountability.

The top three Senators – Sam Bell, Tiara Mack and Kendra Anderson – and the the top three Representatives – David Morales, Rebecca Kislak and Brianna Henries – vote in accordance with the will of their constituents and their conscience. They are unafraid to face their voters, explain their votes and stake out unclaimed political territory. They fight for democracy and equity with compassion and reason, and though they are all aware of the political realities of governance, they work to rise above the oftentimes dingy world of Rhode Island politics.

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