Arkansas Senate President Paul Bookout (D-Jonesboro) had the highest success rate in passing legislation during the recently concluded legislative session, but Sen. Johnny Key (R-Mountain Home) had the most bills passed of any of the 35 Senators.
But how does one ascertain the most influential Senator in the Arkansas Legislature? How would you determine that influence? Is it by title, by party, by bipartisanship? Is it the seriousness of the issues that the lawmaker grapples with? Is his or her time in office a factor in determining effectiveness? Is it the Senator’s ability to stop a bill versus pass one or even just the ability to raise an issue? Is the amount of legislation that a Senator carries and passes into law a good indicator of influence?
These are some questions we’ve bandied around at Talk Business with some of our contributors in hopes of stoking a more widespread debate under the capitol dome.
CRITERIA, PARAMETERS & A STARTING POINT
Many of the criteria for selecting the most and least influential legislators can be subjective, and we recognize that on the front end. For instance, it may be more difficult to pass a law that overhauls the probate code than it is to pass a law correcting a technical discrepancy in the state statutes. Still, they both must be successfully navigated through the legislative process.
A deeper Talk Business analysis of empirical data provides a starting point for this debate.
Today, we take a look at the number of bills filed by each State Senator. And, we examine how successful those Senators were in passing the legislation they signed up to represent. As you might expect, some were prolific and others very minimalist in their efforts. The results of who had the highest and lowest success rates may surprise you.
Our analysis only examines bills on which a Senator was the primary sponsor, according to the legislature’s official web site. We did not count co-sponsorship on bills, which often receive members’ support in exchange for simply agreeing to vote for the measures. The main sponsor of a bill is responsible for whipping the votes, steering a bill through its committee and chamber routes, and guiding it to its ultimate destination – the Governor’s desk.
Our analysis does not distinguish whether a bill was a "shell" bill or a "statement" bill, both of which are sometimes filed to get a group’s attention. Often, these bills are abandoned. In the case of our analysis, abandonment works to the detriment of the bill filer even though it may have subjectively increased the legislator’s effectiveness.
We also only allowed 2 resolutions in our analysis: SJR 5 by Jake Files (R-Fort Smith) and HJR 1001 by Rep. Jonathan Barnett (R-Siloam Springs), both of which were referred constitutional amendments and required a great deal of politicking to secure passage unlike other resolutions that are often commemorative or memorial.
Without further ado, here are our results of State Senators from the highest to lowest success rate ala baseball batting averages:
State Sen. Johnny Key (R-Mountain Home) was far-and-away the winner of the most prolific bill filer. He filed 82 total bills this session, passing 46 of them, or 56%. The next closest bill filer in the Senate was Sen. Percy Malone (D-Arkadelphia) with 59. Thirty-nine of his bills became law, a 66% success rate.
Despite fairly even numbers of Democrats and Republicans in the State Senate (20 D’s, 15 R’s), the 10 most successful in getting their bills signed into law were heavily Democratic. Eight of the 10 were Democrats and 2 were Republicans. Sens. Kim Hendren (R-Gravette) and Jeremy Hutchinson (R-Little Rock) represented those two GOP members at Nos. 7 and 9 respectively.
Senate President Paul Bookout (D-Jonesboro), who kept a very low profile this session, was suprisingly the most successful Senator passing 10 of the 11 bills he ran, a 91% success rate.
Of the 10 least successful, 7 were GOP members and 3 were Democrats. Five of those 10 were basically first-termers in the State Senate, although some had a few years of House experience.
Sen. Ruth Whitaker (R-Cedarville), who fell ill during the session, had the lowest passage rate (14%) only getting 1 of the 7 bills she filed signed into law.
Another way to slice these numbers includes looking at how many total bills a Senator passed into law. Key led 46 measures to the Governor’s desk with Malone second at 39, followed by Sen. Bill Sample (R-Hot Springs) with 38, Sen. Larry Teague (D-Nashville) with 36, and Sen. Sue Madison (D-Fayetteville) guiding 32 bills into law.
Again, these success rate percentages are not the only factor that should be considered in determining the effectiveness of a legislator’s abilities or accomplishments. However, these numbers represent a set of data that cannot be wildly manipulated, they offer an apples-to-apples comparison of legislators among their peers, and they are a factual, objective representation of a legislator’s efforts. In short, the numbers are what the numbers are.
Tomorrow, we’ll look at the House of Representatives, where the dynamic is much different based on relative inexperience and the fact that House members typically carry fewer bills than Senators.