Is This Senator The Best Lawmaker, Or The Worst?

Joe Donnelley
"The more numerous the laws, the more corrupt the government." - Tacitus

The Center for Effective Lawmaking just released a study, calculating the “Legislative Effectiveness Score” for all legislators in the 114th Congress (2015-2016). These measures indicate how well individual politicians did at advancing their legislative agendas, and turned bills into laws.

The study shows conclusively that, in the 114th Congress, Democratic Senator Joe Donnelly of Indiana was the least effective member of his party. Receiving a score of just 0.136, he failed to even come close to the benchmark score of 0.816, which fellow Democratic Senators with the same amount of legislative experience and leadership attained.

The perennial study is a collaboration between professors at the University of Virginia and the Vanderbilt University. The Center for Effective Lawmaking has calculated the effectiveness scores for each Congressional lawmaker, stretching back to 1973. The Center has received strong bipartisan praise for the rigorous analysis of 15 indicators of effectiveness – such as the number of bills sponsored, how far the bills progressed through process.

Bills, too, are weighted on the bases of their importance and with the “commemorative” bills counting as the lease and “significant” bills counting most. The effectiveness scores are then adjusted, on the basis of the factors that impact the effectiveness, such as the seniority of the members and whether the lawmaker is in the majority party.

During the 114th Congress, Senator Donnelly introduced the least amount of bills than any of his Democratic colleagues. And, only two of those bills ever made it out of Subcommittee, with none advancing to full committee consideration. Interestingly, Donnelly was also ranked 55th out of 57 in his party during the 113th Congress, which was his very first Congress as a member, and during which the Democrats had a majority.

The members are only ranked against the colleagues on the same party to discount for the obvious boost in effectiveness that being a member of the majority party usually causes, according to study author Alan Wiseman, a professor at Vanderbilt University.

“Ranking within just the party seemed more sensible than talking about where somebody was in the chamber overall,” Wiseman explained. “If we just lobbed the entire chamber together, almost every member of the minority party would be at the bottom of the ranking.”

Wiseman also points out that having a low Legislative Effectiveness Score doesn’t necessarily mean someone is not an effective lawmaker because the score can never take into account the work done behind the scenes to help advance a particular legislation or even the amount of work done to block legislation that a lawmaker may oppose.

However, it must be asked, if the wisdom of the phrase, “That government is best which governs least,” holds true – doesn’t that mean that Senator Donnelley is indeed the “Best Democrat” in office?

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Adam Campbell is a former military brat, who grew up all over the world--but considers Milwaukee, WI, where he and his wife currently live, to be his home. He enjoys reporting the real news, without bias.