Since the release of the first annual VAPLAN legislative scorecard, we’ve gotten a lot of feedback; most of it good feedback from people grateful to have any kind of summary information on who voted how, but also some of it not so good. I’ve been told we’re irresponsible, that we’re giving ammunition to Republican challengers, that we’re “putting a primary target on the backs of good solid Democrats.” I guess it’s no wonder there’s never been any kind of progressive scorecard before! So I’d like to address some of this here.
- This was the FIRST annual VAPLAN scorecard. That means that we are creating something new here, and there will be some learning process and some tweaks going forward (unless you all scare us away from doing it again–? as if you could!). It would be great if we had been doing this for decades and this were a perfect product, but we haven’t and it isn’t. This also means that we only have one year’s worth of legislative data collected. So if a Senator voted far more progressively or conservatively two years ago than he or she is voting today, that’s not in the scorecard. (We could conceivably develop something that looked back in time and created lifetime scores for legislators, but it would be an enormous amount of work, and we’d need a bigger team of volunteers.)
- To say that this puts a primary target on people’s backs misses the whole point of VAPLAN. VAPLAN was created to encourage advocacy, to encourage people to pay attention to legislation, to contact their representatives about bills that mattered to them, and to make their voices heard. VAPLAN has never and would never scream “primary him!” Because our view is that it is OUR responsibility to lobby our representatives on issues we care about and push them to vote the way we want. Government of the people, by the people, for the people. If you don’t like the way your Delegate or Senator voted, pay attention next session (start by joining VAPLAN) and call or write them before they take that vote! I challenge you to raise your legislator’s score!
- This is a legislative voting record scorecard. Nothing more, nothing less. It does not measure whether your legislator gets campaign money from corporations you hate, or buys his wife flowers with campaign funds, or provides good constituent services. It does not measure whether your representative is responsive when you call for help or with a question, or is friendly, or holds town halls and is accessible. Our legislators are much more than the votes they cast, although obviously those votes matter a whole lot. I don’t know about you, but I can live with a legislator who I disagree on a couple of votes with, but who’s accessible and responsive, and who keeps his or her nose clean on the campaign finance side. So we really shouldn’t try to assign more importance to a legislative scorecard than it deserves.
- Lastly, what if this scorecard does lead to primaries? Is that a terrible thing? It’s not good democracy if your representative isn’t voting in a way that represents your values and you are never offered an alternative. You may or may not choose that alternative (after you factor in things like 3), but you should want to have information that helps you make that decision.