How conservative are your state’s legislators? Here in Idaho for many years, it was hard to say, because voters and activists were often given only rhetoric. Many candidates campaigned as “conservatives” while activists and opponents would slam them as “liberals” and “RINOs.” Neither side provided a basis for its claim. Even voter guides were of little help. A growing number of political leaders in Idaho refuse to fill out voter guides, citing the deluge of questionnaires that come at them. Others who do fill them out may take popular positions on the form that don’t match how they’ve voted.
In his keynote address to the Republican National Convention, Senator Zell Miller (R-Ga.) presented a solution. “Campaign talk tells people who you want them to think you are,” he said. “How you vote tells people who you really are deep inside.” Voters needed to know where politicians really stood. While they could dodge a voter guide, eventually they would have to cast a vote that would declare their stand on the issues.
Of course, national interest groups like the American Conservative Union create ratings for members of Congress based on their stance on key votes. At the state level, however, these resources are often lacking.
So in 2007, I began to score members of the legislature according to their votes on key issues. The Idaho Conservative Scorecard was born.
For that first year, I scored nine issues in the state House and seven in the state Senate. As I’ve refined my methods of finding data on the bills put to a vote, and as our state has addressed some more serious issues, the number of votes scored has climbed to sixteen issues for both houses in the 2011 session. The issues that have ended up on the scorecard over the last five years include abortion, education reform, illegal immigration, anti-smoking legislation, and — welcome to Idaho — our state’s wolf management issues.
For many conservatives in my state, the Idaho Conservative Scorecard has provided a basis for challenging incumbent legislators. Party higher-ups often advise conservatives that someone who agrees with us 80% of the time is our friend. That saying, though true, no longer applies in the face of evidence that a particular Republican we are being urged to support only agrees with us 30% of the time.
In 2010, the Idaho Conservative Scorecard revealed four Republican Idaho state senators had liberal and moderate voting records. One, Twin Falls Senator Chuck Coiner, had a 31% Idaho Conservative voting record, a fact cited by activists calling for his ouster.