Home Virginia Politics Comparing VAPLAN 2020 Virginia Legislative Scores to Districts’ Partisan “Tilts” Leads to...

Comparing VAPLAN 2020 Virginia Legislative Scores to Districts’ Partisan “Tilts” Leads to Some Interesting Findings

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Whether or not you think VAPLAN’s 2020 Virginia legislative scorecard is spot-on, off-base, somewhere in between or whatever, the fact is that: a) it’s based on actual votes the members of the General Assembly took and/or bills sponsored in 2020; b) it cuts across a bunch of different issue areas, unlike many specific issue-area scorecards (e.g, Virginia League of Conservation Voters or Sierra Club, which obviously – and appropriately – are focused on environmental issues); c) it’s 100% transparent (see the spreadsheet here); and d) it was put together by someone (a progressive activist and strong Democrat) who watched the 2020 Virginia General Assembly session *extremely* closely, who covered it every single day inside/out, and who does not have an agenda of her own beyond helping to elect Democrats and providing activists with the information and tools they need to be effective. To me, those are all positive qualities, even if you disagree on specific legislators’ rankings, specific metrics, particular methodologies, etc.

With that, here are a few things that jumped out at me from the VAPLAN 2020 Virginia legislative scorecard, specifically with regard to how legislators scored relative to their district tilts (e.g., how much Ralph Northam won – or lost – their districts by in 2017), a la Progressive Punch.

  • A few Republican State Senators in districts won by Ralph Northam in 2017 really jumped out at me as having scores that absolutely do NOT reflect their districts.  For starters, Sen. Bill DeSteph is in a district (SD-8) which Ralph Northam won narrowly in 2017, with 50% of the vote, yet DeSteph clocks in with an extreme/far-right score of NEGATIVE 0.7 (note: negative 1.0 is the furthest right you can go, so negative 0.7 is very far to the right), ranking him as the fifth-most right-wing/reactionary State Senator. If DeSteph were actually representing the views of his district’s voters, he should be more like Democratic State Senator Lynwood Lewis (D-SD6), who scores a +0.61 in a district which Ralph Northam won with 58.2% of the vote; or Democratic State Senator John Edwards (D-SD21), who scores a +0.64 in a district which Ralph Northam won with 55.8% of the vote; or Democratic State Senator John Bell (D-SD13), who scores a +0.63 in a district which Ralph Northam won with 55% of the vote. Instead, the bottom line with DeSteph is that he is *wildly* out of tune with his district (which he won with just 52% of the vote in November 2019) and should be a top target for defeat in 2023.
  • Another Republican State Senator who jumped out at me as being far to the right of his district is Sen. Bryce Reeves, in a district (SD-17) where Ralph Northam got 49% of the vote in 2017. So basically, this district is evenly divided between Rs and Ds, which means we’d expect a “moderate”/”centrist” State Senator to represent it, right? But…nope, not with Reeves, who scores a hard-right, negative 0.66. Also note that Reeves only won reelection in November 2019 with 51.6% of the vote, so…Reeves is definitely another target for Democrats in 2023.
  • Then there’s freshman Republican Sen. Jen Kiggans, who hails from a district (SD-7) which Ralph Northam won by 9 points in 2017, and which Tim Kaine won by 14 points in 2018. Kiggans herself eked out a win here in November 2019, with just 50.36% of the vote. So…you’d expect her, based on that district lean, to be a *very* moderate Republican (a rare/dying breed, clearly). But…nope. Instead, according to VAPLAN, Kiggans clocks in at a negative 0.45, which ranks her as the fourth-most-conservative Senate Republican, but nonetheless FAR to the right of where this district’s lean is. Given all that, Kiggans should be a TOP target for Democrats in 2023, and really should never have been elected in the first place…ugh, such a huge missed opportunity in SD-7 last year.
  • Similar to Kiggans, there’s Republican Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant, who represents a district (SD-12) won by Ralph Northam in 2017 (52%-47%) and by Tim Kaine in 2018 (57%-41%). So, first of all, Democrats should have won this district in November 2019, and the fact that they didn’t do so is a major disappointment. So how well is Dunnavant representing this decidely NOT-“red” district?  On the one hand, she’s “only” the third-most-right-wing Republican in the State Senate. On the other hand, her score (negative -.30) is still *very* conservative, and definitely not in step with the district lean. So…yep, another prime Democratic target for 2023!
  • One Republican State Senator who is, arguably, not conservative *enough* considering his district lean might be Sen. Emmett Hanger, in a bright-“red” district (SD-24) where Northam lost 2:1 (66%-33%) in 2017, where neo-Confederate Corey Stewart crushed Tim Kaine 62%-36% in 2018, etc. Yet Hanger’s VAPLAN score is actually somewhat “moderate,” relatively speaking…negative 0.18. Given that “moderate” score in a bright-“red” district, it’s not surprising that Hanger was primaried from his (far) right, by Tina Freitas. Perhaps more surprising is that Hanger defeated Freitas easily, by a 15-point margin. Apparently, a lot of Republican voters in SD-24 must simply *like* Emmett Hanger.
  •  Similar to Hanger, you might assume that Sen. Jill Vogel (R-SD27), infamous for her “transvaginal ultrasound” bill, and representing a bright-“red” district where Ralph Northam got just 39% of the vote in 2017 (and Tim Kaine just 41% of the vote in 2018), is as hard-right as they come. Yet, acccording to the VAPLAN scorecard, Vogel’s a *relatively* moderate conservative at negative 0.21, ranking her as the second least-extreme Senate Republican. I mean, Vogel’s still FAR from being a progressive, or even a “centrist,” but she’s not as extreme right as she could be, simply based on district lean.
  • Another interesting case is that of Senate Minority Leader Tommy Norment, who represents a district (SD-3) where Ralph Northam got just 39% of the vote in 2017, and where neo-Confederate Corey Stewart beat Tim Kaine in 2018 by a 17-point margin. So…if Norment wanted to, he could basically be as right-wingnutty as he wants to be. Yet Norment’s VAPLAN score, at negative 0.51, ranks him as one of the least right-wingnut members of the Senate GOP caucus. Not that negative 0.51 makes Norment a moderate Republican, like we used to have in Virginia, but still, it’s interesting that the leader of this bunch of far-right wingnuts is actually a relative “moderate” – albeit compared to a bunch of crazies and extremists – in the caucus he leads.
  • As for Democratic State Senators, one in particular jumps out at me as being out of step with his district: Chap Petersen, who ranks as the *least*-progressive Democrat in the entire Virginia General Assembly, with a +.52 score, despite representing a district (SD-34) won by Ralph Northam 66%-33% in 2017 and by Tim Kaine 69%-29% in 2018. So basically, given his district lean, Petersen could be as progressive as he wants to be. Yet…again, he’s the *least* progressive Democrat in the legislature. Kinda makes me wonder if he’ll get primaried by a progressive in 2023.
  • One of the most glaring contrasts between a State Senator’s score and district lean is Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw, whose district was “gerrymandered for his protection,” basically, with a *massive* “blue” lean (Northam won by a 3:1 margin in 2017; Kaine won by nearly a 4:1 margin in 2018). Given the deep-blue district lean, Saslaw could *easily* be off-the-charts progressive, yet…he’s definitely not. At all. Instead, Saslaw clocks in as the sixth-least-progressive Senate Democrat, with a +0.64 score. Now, that’s not a terrible score, but relative to the rest of his caucus and to his district’s partisan lean, he could easily be in the +0.85 to +1.00 range if he wanted to be. I’d say he should be primaried by a progressive in 2023, but Saslaw – who turned 80 in February – has made it clear that he won’t be running for reelection.
  • On the House of Delegates side, one Republican who is *wildly* out of step is former Speaker Kirk Cox, who (mis)represents a district (HD-66) won by both Ralph Northam and Tim Kaine, yet scores a far-far-right negative 0.79 – the most extreme member of the Virginia House GOP caucus. This guy is utterly abysmal and simply has *got to* be defeated next year. Make it so, Virginia House Democrats!
  • A Republican delegate who’s relatively non-extreme, given his bright-“red” district (HD-1), is Del. Terry Kilgore. This district is so “red” that Ralph Northam only got 20% of the vote there in 2017, while Tim Kaine got just 25% of the vote in 2018. Yet, somehow, Kilgore isn’t *that* right wing, relatively speaking, with a VAPLAN score of negative 0.35, ranking Kilgore as the third-least-reactionary House Republican.
  • Republican Del. Glenn Davis is in a district (HD-84) that went narrowly for Ralph Northam in 2017 and for Tim Kaine (by 10 points) in 2018. So it’s perhaps unsurprising that Davis ranks as the least-right-wing Republican member of the House of Delegates. Still…a negative 0.25 score isn’t exactly progressive, nor does it represent this district’s “lean.” So…yeah, Democrats definitely need to beat this guy in 2021.
  • Republican Del. Roxann Robinson *barely* won reelection in November 2019, in a district (HD-27) carried by both Ralph Northam in 2017 and Tim Kaine in 2018. Yet, far from moderating, Robinson clocks in at a negative 0.5 VAPLAN score, which is very right-wing by almost any metric. So…again, Democrats need to beat her in 2021.
  • Republican Del. Barry Knight represents a district (HD81) won by both Ralph Northam in 2017 and Tim Kaine in 2018, plus he only won reelection by 4 points in 2019, yet…he’s still a right wingnut to the core. According to VAPLAN, Knight scores a negative 0.55, which doesn’t rank him as the most extreme Republican, but it’s still very, very right wing, certainly relative to the district. Please, Democrats, beat this guy in 2021!
  • As for Democratic Delegates, a few jumped out at me as folks who could be a LOT more progressive than they were in 2020, given their districts’ Northam percentages and overall deep-blue leanings. For instance, freshman Del. Suhas Subramanyam represents a strongly “blue” (64% Northam) district, yet was ranked by VAPLAN as one of the least-progressive House Democrats. Not great. Same thing for Del. David Bulova, who ranked as the *least* progressive House Democrat, despite representing a 68% Northam district. Yikes! Also, Del. Vivian Watts ranked as the sixth-least-progressive House Democrat, despite representing a 69% Northam district. Hmmm. Del. Cliff Hayes ranked as the 11th-least-progressive House Democrat, yet his district is strongly blue (66% Northam, 67% Kaine). Del. Betsy Carr ranked as the 13th-least-progressive House Democrat, despite representing an 86% Northam district (so she could easily be far more progressive). Del. Mark Sickles ranked as the 13th-least-progressive House Democrat (tied with Carr), despite representing a 72% Northam district (ditto). Del. Ken Plum ranked as the 13th-least-progressive House Democrat (tied with Carr and Sickles) in a 74% Northam district (ditto); etc.
  • A few other House Democrats who could have been more progressive, relative to their district leans, were: Del. Mike Mullin, who ranked as the second-least-progressive House Democrat, yet whose district is solidly blue (56% Northam, 58% Kaine); Del. Steve Heretick, who ranked as the third-least-progressive House Democrat, yet is in a 61% Northam district; and Del. Clinton Jenkins, who ranked just above Delegates Carr, Sickles and Plum, despite representing a strongly blue (60% Northam) district.
  • One Democrat jumps out for having scored as a super-strong progressive (+0.94) in a “purple” district (HD-28) that was only won by Ralph Northam by 3 points in 2017 is Del. Josh Cole. Kudos to Del. Cole, and let’s make damn sure we have his back next year when he’s up for reelection!
  • Del. Lashrecse Aird had a very strong, +0.93 VAPLAN score in a non-overwhelmingly (56%) Northam district (HD-63), so arguably was more progressive than the district lean would indicate. Again, we should all have her back when she’s up for reelection!
  • Del. Elizabeth Guzman also had an excellent, +0.91 VAPLAN score, again in a non-overwhelmingly (56%) Northam district (HD-31), so as with Delegates Cole and Aird, Delegate Guzman was arguably more progressive than the district lean would indicate, and we need to have her back!
  • Del. Lee Carter (HD-50) is notable simply because he’s a self-described “Democratic Socialist,” yet his VAPLAN progressive score (+0.86) is actually about in the middle of the pack for House Democrats.
  • Finally, a shoutout to House Dems who were strong progressives – as one would expect, but still they deserve credit – in blue/deep-blue districts: Del. Patrick Hope (+0.94 VAPLAN score in a 79% Northam district); Del. Ibraheem Samirah (+0.94 VAPLAN score in a 68% Northam district); Del. Marcus Simon (+0.94 VAPLAN score in a 75% Northam district); Del. Don Scott (+0.94 VAPLAN score in a 72% Northam district); Del. Mark Levine (+0.94 VAPLAN score in a 77% Northam district); Del. Jay Jones (+0.93 VAPLAN score in an 83% Northam district); Del. Marcia Price (+0.93 VAPLAN score in a 70% Northam district); Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy (+0.91 VAPLAN score in a 62% Northam district); Del. Jeff Bourne (+0.91 VAPLAN score in an 88% Northam district) and Del. Alfonso Lopez (+0.90 VAPLAN score in an 82% Northam district).

Did I miss anything here? Anything you agree with? Disagree with? Explain why, if you’re so inclined, in the comments section. Thanks!