At first glance, I thought these graphics by the Capital News Service (posted in Potomac Local) of Virginia “legislative batting averages” could be helpful. But the more I looked, the more I realized…well, not so much. For instance, check out the following problems.
*Capital News Service/Potomac Local claims that Del. David Bulova (D-Fairfax) put in 14 bills and passed none, for a 0.000 “legislative batting average.” In fact, according to the Virginia Legislative Information System (LIS), Bulova DID put in 14 bills, but as far as I can determine, 7 of those passed, many by an almost unanimous vote. Why? Because, in part, many of these bills were totally non-controversial (e.g., “HB 1552 Career and technical education; notification by school board to students and parents of programs”; “HB 1675 Palliative care information and resources; VDH to make information available on its website”). But again, the glaring error here is that Bulova actually batted .500 (7 for 14), not .000 (0 for 14) as Capital News Service (and as posted by Potomac Local, which apparently didn’t check these numbers) claims. #FAIL
*Capital News Service/Potomac Local claims that Del. Jennifer Boysko (D-Herndon) went 7 for 11, for a .636 “batting average.” The reality? According to LIS, Boysko actually went ZERO for 11 (a .000 “batting average”), with some great, progressive bills (e.g, “HB 2188 Firearms; civil liability for sale or transfer without a background check.“; “HB 2186 Whole Woman’s Health Act; performance of abortions“; “HB 2314 Virginia Personnel Act; equal pay for equal work, policy of the Commonwealth“; “HB 2190 Wage or salary history; inquiries prohibited, civil penalty“) all going down to defeat in the Republican-controlled General Assembly. Again, no idea what Potomac Local is talking about here or where they got these numbers from. By the way, this one jumped out at me because Boysko is a progressive champion, and I immediately thought that it was surprising she had such a high “batting average” in a legislature controlled by right-wing Republicans. Turns out my gut feeling was correct, that this did NOT make any sense and that Capital News Service/Potomac Local had simply messed it up.
*Also jumping out at me was something glaringly obvious to anyone who follows Virginia politics at all, namely that the highest legislative “batting averages” were overwhelmingly Republicans. For instance, 12 of the top 15 State Senators were Republicans, plus one “Democrat” who might as well be a Republican in some ways – Dick Saslaw. There were, it basically goes without saying, some really nasty bills in there by right-wingnut Republicans, such as this voter suppression crap by crazy ol’ Mark Obenshain, but also a bunch of non-controversial stuff which passed unanimously (e.g., Ben Chafin‘s “SB 1179 Opioids; workgroup to establish guidelines for prescribing”).
*In the House of Delegates, Capital News Service/Potomac Local lists 27 out of the top 30 “batting averages” as held by Republicans. Two of those (Daun Hester and Roslyn Tyler) had a combined 7 bills, all completely non-controversial and passed unanimously. The other Dem in the top-30 list, Patrick Hope, went 12 for 15 on basically technical, non-controversial stuff (e.g., HB 1493 Definition of sales draft; credit card offenses; penalty, HB 1508 Critical incident reports; DBHDS to provide written report). There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, but it’s not sound methodology to compare non-controversial stuff with bills (e.g., pro-choice, for gun violence prevention, pro-environment, pro-clean-energy, pro-voting-rights) that Republicans are almost certain to oppose.
*The flip side is that most members with the lowest “batting averages” were progressive Democrats putting in a lot of great legislation and getting shot down. For instance, Rip Sullivan introduced a slew of great bills — such as HB 1462 Voter identification; accepted forms of identification, HB 1703 Electric and natural gas utilities; energy efficiency goals, HB 1632 Renewable energy property; tax credit for property placed in service, etc, etc. — the vast majority of which were killed by Republicans, many in committee without even a recorded vote. Alfonso Lopez and Marcus Simon also had very low “batting averages,” but again, they also had great bills, like Lopez’s HB 2384 Drinking water; lead levels, HB 1870 Deleterious substances; discharge into state waters, HB 1868 Child labor; tobacco farms and Simon’s HB 1683 Prohibited public carrying of certain firearms; penalty, HB 1684 Firearms; restricting access to children, Class 1 misdemeanor, HB 2309 Minimum wage; increases wage to $11 per hour effective July 1, 2017, HB 2380 Virginia Conflict of Interest and Ethics Advisory Council; investigative authority, HB 1916 Virginia Student Loan Authority; established, report, etc. Likewise, Mark Levine had a ton of excellent legislation (e.g., HB 2444 Presidential candidates; required statement regarding disclosure of federal tax return). So…guess what happened to all this excellent legislation in the Bill Howell/Tommy Norment right-wing-Republican-controlled General ASSembly? Yep, almost all of it was killed, much in committee without recorded votes. Ahhhh…democracy.
I was chatting with some Democratic delegates and staffers about this “batting average” thing, and their comments were basically scathing. One delegate said, point blank, that the rankings were “crap,” “silly and also wrong.” This person noted that bills get “stolen” all the time by Republicans, who then get credit for passing them. Another example: one progressive Democratic delegate “had a non-controversial bill killed because he made a floor speech calling them out for avoiding a vote on redistricting reform. That afternoon, the bill died.” This person also argued that Democratic delegates often get punished by Republican “leadership” (using the word loosely) if they: a) raise a lot of money; b) speak up a lot; c) put forth “controversial” (aka, progressive or pro-environment stuff that Republicans don’t like). A Democratic staffer confirmed this pattern as “definitely true,” both for bills passed and also for committee assignments. And a member added, “the Dems who do best are the ones who speak out least and cause the fewest problems for Republicans.”
Finally, one Democratic member told me that a ” problem with that graphic is it suggests Dems should play small ball and only propose safe bill,” that “I could ‘bat 1000’ too if I renamed community centers and put forward legislation to allow localities to designate a wine as special.” In contrast, “when I propose a bill I know that will fail — like paid family medical leave or no discrimination against the LGBT community — I lose points.” Nor does this graphic recognize “playing defense,” whether helping to kill a bad bill or at least make it less egregious. In sum, this member argues, “it’s really a stupid chart.”
So…serious errors, plus conceptually flawed=”swing and a miss” for Capital News Service/Potomac Local. Having said that, I do give them credit for at least trying to do what journalists are supposed to do, which is to inform the public as to what their elected officials are up to. Unfortunately, in this case, that well-intentioned attempt went seriously astray…