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< Is this any way to treat a Speaker? | Main | Conference!! >

Fun. No. Serious fun.

Posted at 6:31 PM on March 18, 2007 by Bob Collins (4 Comments)

I stumbled on an article on Minnesota Fantasy Legislature in the newspaper in Winona, in which a couple of legislators had a discouraging word. Sen. Sharon Erickson Ropes, who -- for the record -- I drafted onto a team a few weeks ago , suggested it has "serious flaws" (that seriously flawed system, by the way, shows that she's having a heck of a rookie year) and Rep. Gene Pelowski said "The MPR game may be fun, but it awards what is done easily and ignores those things that will benefit Minnesota's quality of life."

OK, I'll bite.

Like what?

I'm a SABRmetrician. Sort of. We're basically people who think if something contributes to a win in baseball, it can be measured. We hate things like applause for someone who is said to be "good for team chemistry," even if he's batting .220. Hogwash. If someone contributes to a win in baseball, it will show up somewhere because the only way to win a baseball game is to either contribute to a run your team scores, or prevent the other team from scoring one. Nothing else matters. Even good looks and practical jokes.

The Legislature isn't like that, but a contribution isn't unmeasurable either. In another year, most of the lawmakers will be out knocking on doors and running ads and jamming your mailbox with pretty picture postcards with headlines that say stuff like:

"I listen to my constituents"

"I'm working for you."

"I'm keeping your taxes low and your schools excellent."

Boy, talk about your fantasies.

I'm guessing nobody will be saying, "I filed only 40 bills last year and not a single one passed committee but it doesn't matter because I did.... other... things."

So I'm not altogether sure that the people who put these campaigns together are the best judge of whether the MFL illuminates the work of lawmakers properly. Let's just say that stopping by here once or twice a week will likely be more illuminating than any campaign material you get next year.

But let's keep in mind what the MFL isn't. It isn't a measure of a legislator's total effectiveness. But, on the other hand, it isn't not a little bit of a measurement either.

I'm pretty sure that Rep. Pelowski hasn't read the MFL rules and thinks the only thing that matters is filing a lot of bills. I got the impression he's not a fan of Jim Abeler. In fact, the MFL awards getting legislation passed, more than getting it filed. One just happens to be a prerequisite for the other. And it's true, as I've indicated here before, that state senators get stiffed in the total points because only 5 can latch onto a bill in the Senate, but 35 can in the House.

That's all true, but the people who complain about that are also the people who make the rules that allow the situation in the first place. Let's think for a second: why on earth would the House allow 35 members to sign onto a bill? I can think of only one reason: so that when they campaign next year, on virtually any issue they can say, "...and I co-authored a bill on this very subject..... blah blah blah." In fact, they didn't co-author anything. They just tagged onto someone else's work so it'll play with constituents at re-election time. Hardly a justifiable measure of effectiveness either.

So? Government reform anyone?

Pelowski said his work is tied up in government reform and mandate reduction, which is "the most difficult thing to do in the Legislature," and isn't point-worthy.

There's a reason for that this year. 1) Government hasn't been reformed (unless you think jacking up per diem, proposing new taxes, and naming a highway after Walter Mondale is government reform) and 2) Mandates haven't been reduced (see my treatise on the bullying bill). One shouldn't get points in any scoring system for something that doesn't happen. Hard? Yeah, it's hard. That's why you get the big per diem. MFL doesn't reward legislators for trying, its points are rewarded for doing.

There's only one way to reform government and reduce mandates and that's to file legislation to reduce mandates and reform government. You might be able to keep more mandates from coming along by trying to stomp some bill as committee chair, but you can't reform government without the bill-making process.

I can't imagine sitting in endless hours of committee is fun. I watched the Senate hearing on the governor's mental health initiative last week and saw senator-you-know-who herding people who showed up to testify to "be quick" because they had other bills to hear, as if the priority here was getting the hearing over with as opposed to listening to the knowledge the great unwashed were trying to impart. Reality check: This bill -- really would reform something. But the committee process is part of the job... and, for the record, part of the scoring.

Ideally, it would be nice to reward "constituent service," but I have no mechanism for recognizing it. And neither do they.

Oh, one change I do want to make in the next session -- if there is an MFL -- penalizing legislators who "pass" in a committee roll call vote on a controversial bill until after they see how the vote went.

MFL is fun. But it's not just fun. It's actually part of a holistic approach to illuminating the work of legislators. Votetracker is another (you'll note legislators are linked) component, as is our news coverage, as is this blog. Taken holistically, it's all a heck of a lot better than waiting for the mailman -- or the Winona Daily News -- next November.

Comments (4)

Reps. Abeler and Moe led their respective caucuses last year when the MFL didn't even exist. For someone to suggest that any legislator would be swayed on their legislative work due to the MFL is just plain nuts. I would also suggest that the reason a high number of bills have been filed in the House, (BTW I'm not sure if the number is that much higher than previous years), is that after many years of being the minority, there is a lot of pent up energy for the Dems to push their own agenda. That's neither inherently good or bad, but the bottom line is that to the victor go the spoils. One last point. Voters would be well served to question the effectiveness of those legislators who are at the bottom of the MFL standings, Democrats or Republicans. The MFL scoring system isn't perfect by any means, but it does shed some light on the legislative process. Keep up the great work Bob.

Posted by mike simpkins | March 18, 2007 11:29 PM

I've referred all my contacts with an itch to run for office to the power rankings, where they find useful data on the effectiveness (or lack of) the incumbent. And for people considering giving money to the federal campaign of Sen. Dick Day for MN-1, they might want to check out his ranking to determine what kind of return they might get on their investment.

Posted by Nancy G | March 19, 2007 8:10 AM

I find it interesting that Brian Voerding / Winona Daily News did not quote Rep. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka. Even though his article clearly calls him out. May be Rep. Abeler was to busy to return his call.

I did notice that the quoted members are low on the rankings. Maybe they should spend more time working for the people, instead of trying to posture for the media.

Posted by Brian Hanf | March 19, 2007 9:40 AM

The allegation that Abeler and a few others are filing bills just to get MFL points, I think, is a pretty serious allegation and not one to be taken lightly. I'm not as busy reforming government as Rep. Pelowski is, so I may have more time to pay attention to what's happening at the Capitol in this area and I haven't seen a substantial increase in the number of bills filed.

But even if I had, I wouldn't be so sloppy as to blame the MFL for that, without some serious analysis.

For one thing, the party of bigger government returned to power and the one of limited government got tossed out. So doesn't it stand to reason that there would be more bills this year to undo the work of the GOP, about which there was so much disagreement with the then-minority party when the GOP was in power?

Posted by Bob Collins | March 19, 2007 9:46 AM