LAURINBURG — Though a recent report ranks Scotland County’s state legislators, all Democrats, as not being particularly effective during the 2013 legislative session, the county’s state senator and two representatives have been marked by a nonpartisan research group as highly active during their 106 days in Raleigh.
The North Carolina Center for Public Policy Research, a nonprofit organization supported by grants and donations, released its rankings of effectiveness, attendance and participation earlier this month. The report is based on responses to surveys from legislators, registered lobbyists and capital news media. The overall response rate was 40 percent.
Freshman State Sen. Gene McLaurin ranked sixth in effectiveness among fellow Democrats, first among freshman Democrats, and 33rd on the list that included 49 of 50 state senators. Sen. Martin Nesbitt, a Buncombe County Democrat who died on March 6, was not included in the rankings.
McLaurin was the fourth highest-ranked freshman behind Republican senators Jeff Tarte of Mecklenburg County, Tamara Barringer of Wake County and Trudy Wade of Guilford County, ranked at 24, 26 and 31, respectively.
“I was also ranked the highest freshman in rural district,” McLaurin said during a phone interview Thursday. “I really feel good about the way I was able to help communicate the importance of the rural communities within senate leadership and I’m overall pleased with the ranking.”
Though he has faced local opposition by Democratic constituents for a voting record that veered from party lines during a particularly contentious session in the Republican-controlled General Assembly, McLaurin said he is proud of his ability to propose “common-sense solutions” that appeal to those on both sides of the aisle.
“I’m proud to be a Democrat but I don’t look at an issue as a partisan issue, I look at what’s best for our district as a whole. … I think we need more moderate, business-oriented people in Raleigh and I think I’ve clearly shown that’s who I am.”
According to the center’s attendance rankings, McLaurin was present for 96 percent of the 106 days of legislative session, with two partial and four total days absent, which placed him at the No. 23 slot. In roll-call voting, McLaurin was ranked No. 30, having voted at 99.3 percent, or 874 times of a possible 880.
“I definitely took my responsibility seriously,” he said.
Five state senators had an 100 percent attendance rate, including the aforementioned Tarte.
McLaurin has filed to run again in this year’s election, but is unopposed in the May primary. He will face off in November with Republican Tom McInnis of Ellerbe, and Libertarian P.H. Dawkins of Hamlet.
State representatives Garland Pierce and Ken Goodman were ranked at No. 93 and 66, respectively, of the 120 representatives ranked for effectiveness by the study. Only those who had spent a “considerable” amount of time in the General Assembly by the 2013 session were ranked.
Pierce, who has spent five terms in the state’s House of Representatives and is running unopposed for his sixth, saw his ranking improve during this legislative session from 2011’s spot at 114 and 2005’s ranking of 100. His ranking has dropped, however, from the 2009 and 2007 rankings of 64 and 88, respectively.
Citing the lack of participation in the report and his own opposition to much of the legislation proposed by the General Assembly’s Republican majority, Pierce said he was pleasantly surprised at the ranking.
“As the chair of the Legislative Black Caucus, I’m amazed that my number is that high because I was so outspoken against legislature proposed by the powers that be,” Pierce said.
Pierce was ranked 23rd among fellow Democratic representatives, but he said the number reflects his staunch support during the session for issues that were heavily split down party lines. His highest ranking, in 2009, was when Democrats controlled the House.
“The issues that the party thought were important, I stuck to the party,” he said. “Teacher pay, unemployment insurance, Medicaid expansion, all of those things were important.”
But after five terms, Pierce said, he puts no stock in such rankings.
“What I am excited about is the ability to do for my constituents,” he said. “They are the ones who will make the decision at the voting booth if they don’t feel that I am effective. … I don’t believe you can find too many people in my district that say I was not able to help them.”
Pierce was present for 104 days, or 98 percent, of the legislative session, having been marked for one full and one partial absence. He was ranked at No. 13 for voting participation, with 1321 out of 1324 votes cast, or 99.8 percent.
Goodman, who is running unopposed for his third term, saw his effectiveness ranking jump from 99 in 2011, his first year in office. Like McLaurin, he said the ability to work with the Republican majority better allowed him to make his voice heard.
“I don’t think I’ve really conducted myself differently, but I’ve learned better how the system works and I’ve created relationships with representatives on both sides of the aisle,” he said.
He also said that he doesn’t align himself staunchly with fellow Democrats, choosing to vote for issues on his own set of established criteria.
“I don’t consider party lines at all. I have three considerations for how I vote — the first one is, is it right or wrong? The second is, is it good for the people of my district and the third is is it good for North Carolina as a whole?”
Goodman agreed with Pierce that their effectiveness shouldn’t be gauged by a study, especially not one with only 40 percent participation.
“We want to do what’s best for our constituents,” he said. “The report is slanted towards the majority party. … You tend to skew towards your colleagues.”
An obstacle that he, Pierce and McLaurin, will continue to face, Goodman said, is being Democrats who represent rural areas, essentially a “double minority.”
“It takes more effort, but we’re willing to go for it,” he said.
The center reported that Goodman was present for 102 days, or 96.2 percent, of the legislative session, with four partial and four total absences. He ranked at 112 with 96.6 percent, 0r 1250 votes cast out of 1294 possible votes.
Abbi Overfelt can be reached at 910-276-2311, ext. 12. Follow her on Twitter @aoinscotco.