Bob Bernick’s Notebook: Parsing the Numbers

bernick mugIf you are ever at the Utah State Capitol during the 45-day general legislative session – late January to early March – you will hear a rather obnoxious loud sound whenever the House has a floor roll call vote.

Kind of a: ding, dIIng, dIIIIIng. Over and over again until the speaker closes the vote.

The Senate doesn’t have such a general call. Senators who are off the floor have to listen for a female roll clerk to call out their names alphabetically – Adams through Weiler – with Senate President Wayne Niederhauser called last.

As the senators call out “yea” or “nay” the clerk marks their votes electronically on a video board in the chambers and over the Senate’s website.

In the House, representatives vote at their desks on a small touch screen, or if they are off the floor or a few feet away from their desks they put their finger up or down and the House voting clerk marks their vote on her touch screen – and the chamber electronic boards and the website tally accordingly.

You see, in 35 years of covering the Legislature, I know that the 75 House members and 29 senators take their voting records seriously.

And for the most part, they really do try to vote on all floor action – bills and amendments. By law, they actually HAVE to vote if they are in the Capitol during a roll call.

So, when BYU political science professor Adam Brown does his annual legislative voting report, I try to pay attention.

I want to see who is missing many floor votes, and figure out why.

For the sake of brevity, I list below only the senators and House members who missed 10 percent of their bodies’ votes, or more, and if I know a general reason for that I note it after their names.

Because there are fewer senators – and maybe because there is no loud warning bell telling them a floor vote is taking place – the upper body members are more likely to miss votes as they meet with constituents and lobbyists during floor sessions.

Senators have three times as many constituents as House members.

And any lobbyist worth his salt knows you kill a bill, or amend the heck out of it, in the Senate.

You have a much smaller number of part-time politicians to reach and convince there than in the House.

So it is no surprise that 14 senators out of 29 – almost half – missed 10 percent of the floor votes or more.

On the House side, only 10 of 75 members missed 10 percent of the votes or more.

There’s another reason senators may miss more votes – the last four days of the session the Senate historically passes bills like a house on fire – bang, bang, bang. There are fewer senators to talk on each bill, and they do away with voting twice on each measure – just voting one time per bill, as the House always does.

So if a senator is off the floor much the final week, he or she will miss a lot of votes.

Here’s what Brown found, listed top down for the folks who missed the most votes.

SENATE, percent of votes missed:

— 45.8 percent of votes missed, Sen. Jani Iwamoto, D-Holladay. Iwamoto was ill the final week or so of the session and absent from the Capitol. With so many votes coming the last week, her voting record really suffered.

— 43.3 percent, Sen. Mark Madsen, R-Saratoga Springs. Madsen carried the most controversial medical marijuana bill and was often in meetings, press conferences and such over that issue.

Also, Madsen is not running for re-election, and so didn’t care as much about his voting record as might be otherwise.

— 36.7 percent, Sen. Steve Urquhart, R-St. George. Urquhart carried several really controversial bills this session – hate crimes, the death penalty and more.

So he, also, was often in meetings over those bills. Urquhart is not running for re-election, and so not as worried about his voting record.

— 25.3 percent, Senate Majority Whip Stuart Adams, R-Layton. Leadership often is off the floor in meetings. Adams also carried the controversial road-sales-tax-shift-to-water bills and was in meetings about those.

— 23.7 percent, Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo. Bramble carries a lot of controversial bills each session and seems to have his fingers in a lot of political pies – meaning he is off the floor more than other senators.

— 20.7 percent, Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy. As the Senate leader, Niederhauser must often meet various big-shot visitors, foreign dignitaries and so forth. Still, I noticed that the president was off the podium often the last few days of the session.

— 18.6 percent, Sen. Deidre Henderson, R-Spanish Fork.

— 18.3 percent, Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton.

— 16.6 percent, Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper.

— 14.5 percent, Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan. Hillyard is the long-time Senate budget chairman and off the floor dealing with budget-setting items.

— 14.5 percent, Sen. Al Jackson, R-Highland. Jackson is retiring from the Senate, not running again.

— 12.1 percent, Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley.

— 11.7 percent, Senate Minority Leader Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake. As the Democratic leader, Davis is often off the floor.

— 10.3 percent, Sen. Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake. While this may not be a politically correct statement by me, Escamilla was way, way pregnant during the session, and she deserves applause for her generally good attendance rating.

HOUSE, percent of votes missed:

— 28.8 percent, House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper. Hughes missed a lot of podium time as he was working on the budget and putting out political fires in his office near the House floor.

— 28.6 percent, Rep Johnny Anderson, R-Taylorsville. Anderson is not running for re-election, but retiring from the House.

— 23 percent, Rep. Gage Froerer, R-Huntsville. Froerer is on the House Rules Committee, which unlike its Senate counterpart meets during floor time, and some votes are missed in that capacity.

— House Majority Assistant Whip Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville. Leaders miss a lot of floor time in meetings.

— 15.2 percent, Rep. Dean Sanpei, R-Provo. Sanpei is the House budget chairman, and like Hillyard in the Senate is off the floor a lot dealing with budget items.

— 14.5 percent, Rep. Mike Schultz, R-Hooper. Schultz is on the House Rules Committee. He also carried a very controversial non-compete employee bill that took a lot of meetings.

— 11.7 percent, Rep. Jake Anderegg, R-Lehi.

— 11.3 percent, Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab. Noel is the House Rules Committee chairman, and must put together once or twice a day the Rules Committee agenda, plus miss votes in the off-floor meetings.

— 11 percent, Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clinton.

— 10.5 percent, Rep. Keven Stratton, R-Orem.

BYU professor Brown puts out several legislative data analysis after every session, and UtahPolicy will bring those to you as they are made public.