Mary Katherine Murphy
A survey by the NC Center for Public Policy Research asserts that Scotland County’s representatives in the General Assembly were less effective last year due to a political power shift in the legislature.
The center performed its biannual study of “Effectiveness, Attendance, and Roll Call Voting Participation for the North Carolina General Assembly” from December 2011 to February 2012. The findings were released this week.
Republicans dominated the top spots of the survey. But that should come as little surprise given that Republicans now hold majorities in the House and Senate for the first time since 1870.
Rep. Garland Pierce, a Wagram Democrat, was ranked 114 out of 120 General Assembly members, down from 64 in 2009. Sen. Bill Purcell of Laurinburg Democrat slid 19 rankings to 28th out of 49 in the state Senate.
Rep. G.L. Pridgen, a Republican from Lumberton was ranked 96th. Pridgen’s ranking is understandable given that this is his first term.
Rep. Ken Goodman, a Rockingham Democrat, ranked at 99.
The rankings were calculated based upon a survey of House and Senate members, as well as prominent lobbyists and capital news correspondents based in North Carolina. The overall response rate was 40 percent, with 63 House members and 24 senators responding.
Pierce attributes his own fall in rankings largely to the consequences of being a member of the minority party, as 68 House members are Republicans as of the 2010 elections.
“It’s no more and no less than just politics,” Pierce said. “When the party in power has 68 people, when they rate all their folks, there’s no way you’re going to get a good score.”
The center noted in its analysis of the results that committee chairs and longtime members of the General Assembly were apt to place higher in the rankings. Pierce said that, as a Democrat in a Republican majority House, retaining the influence that comes with committee chairmanship became exponentially more difficult.
“When I was a committee chair and in a leadership position, I was 64th last time,” Pierce said. “If you don’t have a position, you’re not able to do a lot for the lobbyists and people who come to you.”
Republicans hold the 10 highest effectiveness rankings in the House and 12 of the top 15 rankings in the Senate. Pierce said that it has become harder for him and many other Democrats to push bills forward in the legislature.
“You’re not in charge of a committee, if they don’t want your legislation to go through, they block it,” said Pierce. “They have 68 people and need 60 to veto you. It’s the same way when Democrats were in charge; if they didn’t like legislation, they’d just block it. You can never go anywhere with a bill to get it out to the public and get it out to other members. This is the first time they’ve had total control in years at this level, so they’re going to make the most of it.”
Pierce ranked in a 14-way tie for 60th in attendance, present on 98.1 percent of days in the legislative session. He also had 99.9 percent roll call voting participation, that is, he voted on 1,322 of the 1,323 bills presented when he was not absent or excused from voting.
Purcell clocked in with 100 percent roll call voting participation in the Senate. Pridgen voted on 1,309 of 1,326 possible bills for a participation percentage of 98.7, while Goodman came in with 98.6 percent, voting on 1,284 of 1,302 bills.
Pierce said that, although the last few years have been something of a frustrating experience, he will continue to act in the best interests of his constituents.
“We were not able to overcome, but we hope to have opportunity down the road,” he said.
Goodman, Purcell and Pridgen could not be reached for comment.