Reason in Government ranks California legislators from “radically centrist” to “persistently polarizing.”
I am very excited to announce that Reason in Government (“Reason”), a social welfare organization that I helped launch earlier this year, has released its first study. On Wednesday, Reason published a legislator scorecard entitled: “Who Makes the Grade? Ranking California’s Legislators from ‘radically centrist’ to ‘persistently polarizing.’”
The Scorecard should be of interest to anyone who is a self-described centrist, laments the absence of a socially liberal and fiscally conservative political party, or believes that the development of public policy would benefit from more reason (e.g., collecting data, finding facts, developing options, and realistically weighing the costs and benefits of those options informed by economics and science).
Why? Because Reason was founded to drive more informed civic engagement resulting in more effective, efficient, and reasoned public policies in accordance with a set of core principles – principles that make the organization centrist with a point of view, rather than one that necessarily seeks the middle ground. Reason believes in less intrusive and more effective government that follows a thorough and empirical policy formulation process. In today’s political parlance, Reason is a generally socially liberal, fiscally conservative, and environmentally conscious reform group. It is, therefore, neither consistently “left” nor “right” on public policy issues, nor is it always in the “middle.” Instead, because its positions are guided by reason rather than political orthodoxy, and because it advocates for those positions, it refers to itself as “the voice of the radical center.”
Reason prepared the Scorecard to answer two very simple questions: First, are there any “radically centrist” legislators in California – those whose views are routinely guided by a commitment to reasoned policy consistent with our core principles (e.g., promoting personal and economic freedom, less intrusive and more effective government, and careful balancing when two important values conflict, such as environmental protection and economic opportunity)? Second, are there any legislators who so consistently eschew these principles – who are so far removed from the radical center – that they can be considered “persistently polarizing?”
The process Reason followed to answer these questions was radical when compared to scorecards prepared by other groups. Reason did not focus on a single-issue as a prism through which to assess voting behavior. Moreover, a legislator could receive an “A” on the Scorecard without being aligned with Reason nearly 100% of the time. It should be self-evident that reasonable people can disagree from time-to-time, but that is not necessarily the view of either party or the many political factions that preach orthodoxy. Reason looked at voting records over time because they provided richer and more complete evidence of legislator behavior, including chronic abstentions.
The Scorecard focused on legislation relating to personal freedom and public health, environmental regulation, education, and economic opportunity. Reason developed positions on 22 bills based on how closely they adhered to its core principles, and then scored each legislator based on how closely his or her votes tracked Reason’s positions. Abstentions were penalized.
Using this methodology, Reason determined that there were very few radically centrist legislators in California. In the Assembly, only 17 Assembly Members (out of 80) received grades equal to or better than a “B-” and thus made the grade as radical centrists. This group included 9 Republicans and 8 Democrats. In the Senate, only 9 Senators (out of 40) made the grade. They were all Republicans. (To see the complete list, click here).
That the Scorecard found a small number of radical centrists is disappointing, but hardly surprising. After all, California is not known as a hotbed of radical centrism.
Still, the Scorecard provides two glimmers of hope for Reason-like centrists. California has enacted some radically centrist legislation in the past four years, and it does have a small cadre of legislators who consistently favor less intrusive, more effective, and well-reasoned public policy.
What can you do to promote continued progress toward radical centrism? It’s simple. Get informed and get engaged. As the Board of Directors at Reason stated when it released the Scorecard: “We hope that this material will spark debate and engagement on the substantive issues we raised and the need for government reform in . . . California. We all stand to benefit from a more informed and engaged citizenry, and especially a more radical center.”