What Makes an Effective Legislator?

by Senator Patricia Jones
Senate Minority Leader

Senator Pat JonesWhat makes an effective legislator?  According to the Deseret News (“GOP Powered Utah’s 2009 Session” 3/23/09), success is measured by the number of bills passed during the legislative session.  But is that the best yardstick?

Judging the effectiveness of a lawmaker by the number of bills he or she passes is like measuring the competence of a parent by the number of children they bring into the world.  Besides, I have never had anyone call and beg for more laws.  To the contrary, I receive many calls pleading with me to help derail harmful legislation.

This is not sour grapes.  I served six years in the Utah House and just completed my third year in the Utah Senate.  During my tenure, I have passed numerous bills dealing with critical issues related to health, senior citizens, public education, financial literacy, and renewable energy.  So have my Democratic colleagues.

Utah’s Democrats play a critical role in our legislature, often without fanfare or credit.  Utah’s Democrats contribute new ideas.  Case in point: the much-heralded liquor reform legislation was possible in part by Sen. Scott McCoy’s idea to eliminate “liquor stickers,” saving the state $1 million a year.  Sen. McCoy graciously offered his idea to the Republican sponsors of the legislation in order to assist the passage of the reform package.

The merit of legislative bills varies widely.  A legislator may sponsor and get credit for a bill that simply changes the word, “a” to “an.”  Or, the lawmaker may sponsor a bill to sunset outdated provisions in Utah law.  Simple.  Many of the simple bills are handed off to newly-elected Republicans, knowing the legislation will sail through.  Regardless of political party, lumping simple bills with bills that are thoroughly vetted over a series of months is misleading.

Utah’s Democrats on Capitol Hill are the voice of reason for mainstream Utahns.  The fiscally-responsible 2009 Democratic budget called for an increase in the tobacco tax, strongly supported by the public, but rejected by the majority.  Utah Democrats have pushed for genuine ethics reform over the years.  Utah Democrats have rallied for senior citizens, for environmental issues, advocated for people with disabilities and others who are vulnerable, carried the flag for public and higher education year after year….and have offered up substantial and important pieces of legislation.  Now that is a more accurate yardstick.

One thought on “What Makes an Effective Legislator?

  1. I totally agree with the fact that the number of bills passed is a poor yardstick for determining the effectiveness of a legislator. I’m not sure that any specific slate of issues makes a better yardstick.

    The best yardstick of an effective legislator should be how well they communicate with their constituents and how well they are able to process information and make good choices about the legislation in front of them and how faithfully they adhere to the rules of the legislative process.

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