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Posts published in “Day: August 3, 2009”

With one exception

Can you statistically measure how "liberal" or "conservative" a member of Congress is? Can you even define those terms with language both side would accept?

Maybe. An academic review at the University of California-San Diego (where it's now located; earlier versions of the project were elsewhere) has taken a stab at it with this review: Of "694 roll calls cast in the 110th House (not counting quorum calls). Of these, 485 had at least 0.5% or better in the minority and were used in the scaling. The rank ordering is based upon these 485 roll calls. Note that tied ranks are allowed." The rankings probably shouldn't be taken as gospel, but they are telling.

In the Senate, the regions' four Democrats were well inside their caucus, with the two Oregonians (Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley) ranking a little more liberal than the two Washingtonians (Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell). The Northwest's two Republicans, Idaho's Mike Crapo and Jim Risch, scored (almost identically) in about the middle of the Senate Republican caucus. In each case, about what you might expect.

Numerically, in the House, the rankings run from 1.0 for California Democratic Representative Bob Filner to 436.0 for Arizona Republican Representative John Shadegg. The two parties split nearly perfectly, with all Democrats (blue dogs included) scoring 257.0 or less, and all Republicans 258.0 or more - all, that is, but one.

Among Northwest Democrats, the most liberal was Washington's Jim McDermott (23.0); among Republicans, the most conservative was Oregon's Greg Walden (349.0).

But here's the stunner: The most "conservative" member of the Northwest delegation turns out not to be a Republican at all, not Idaho's Mike Simpson (281.0) or Washington's Dave Reichert (263.0), Doc Hastings (312.0) or Cathy McMorris-Rodgers (341.5).

Rather, it is the only Democrat in the House to score more conservative than the "least conservative" Republican - Idaho's Walt Minnick, at 359.5, which puts him just about in the middle of the House Republican caucus, and more "conservative" than, for example, Simpson. No other Democrat or Republican scores across the line at all.

UPDATE Minnick's office has taken a look at the numbers, and emailed us a comment on them:

First, it's no secret that Walt has the most independent voting record in Congress. Not "one of the most" but THE most, according to CQ and the Washington Post. [Editor: The chart makes that point pretty conclusively.] He is already more "conservative" (if that's the word you choose to use) than any other member of his caucus. And this data shows he is more conservative than some members of the other party, which I think is reflective of the District.

All that said, we were surprised by the raw numbers you linked to -- until we looked at the data. I can explain most of the disparity with two words: Jeff Flake. Flake is a GOP representative from Arizona who has made it his personal crusade this session of Congress to introduce hundreds of amendments to strip earmarks from appropriations bills. Many of those amendments ultimately make it to the floor. The vast majority of Republicans and almost all of the Democrats vote against those amendments. However, Walt has joined a handful of folks who refuse earmarks to vote with Flake, on principle, for each amendment.

Our legislative director looked at the data this morning for me, and confirmed that Flake's amendments and similar anti-earmark votes are the cause of the disparity.

The state differentials

The economic mess of the last year has led to inevitable finger-pointing state by state, some of which has come to a head with a Ross Douthat column comparing the conditions of the states of California and Texas, suggesting that blue California was in rugged shape, and Texas by some measures better, in part because of their relative redness or blueness.

It doesn't really make much sense; you can run all sorts of comparisons depending on what point you want to prove. One across-the-board comparison of some interest, though, was one pulled by economist and columnist Paul Krugman, who pointed to the batch of states with unemployment numbers over 10%. They are located, he pointed out, in two groups, on the Pacific west (Oregon, California, Nevada) and in the country's east-center (Michigan south to Florida). From his blog:

What you see, if you look at the black states — states with 10+ percent unemployment — are two great belts of suffering. One is California/Oregon/Nevada, which is about the burst bubble. The other stretches down across the middle of the country. Except for Florida, which is presumably more bubble damage, what this looks like to me is manufacturing — I know that a large part of it is “Auto Alley”, which is the south-by-east spread of the old Detroit hub that took place as foreign automakers moved in. And manufacturing, remember, has been hit especially hard in this crunch.

All of this suggests that who’s suffering most has little to do with state policies. It’s about what you happened to be doing for a living when the economy fell apart.