(WBIR - Knoxville) State lawmakers are back in campaign mode after wrapping up the legislative session this spring. A new report by a national nonpartisan group is likely to show up in some campaign ads.
The Sunlight Foundation rates state lawmakers across the country based on how liberal or conservative they are along with their effectiveness at getting bills passed. In Tennessee, some results are not a surprise. Others arguably miss the mark widely to the left and right.
Of little surprise is Republican Stacey Campfield's rating as the most conservative member of the Senate. He also ranks as one of the least effective at getting legislation passed.
Once you move left of Campfield on the scatter plot, many lawmakers say it's difficult to connect the dots to reality. For example, conservative representative Bill Dunn of Knoxville rates as the most liberal Republican in the state house.
"Do you understand what formula they use? I read it very quickly and told myself I'm not going to waste a whole lot of time on this," said Dunn. "I think whatever method they use obviously doesn't work. The Tennessee Conservative Union based right here in Tennessee, they voted me conservative of the year."
Dunn speculates his role in placing bills on the calendar is likely skewing the data by counting those votes as a sign of personal support for legislation.
"So I'm voting for all of these bills for scheduling purposes as opposed to whether it's a good bill or not. It's just getting them on the schedule, not a vote in favor or against it," said Dunn. "Obviously someone spent a lot of time and money to come up with a ranking that is patently false."
Representative Ryan Haynes of Knoxville also criticized the veracity of the report.
"To call Bill Dunn the 'most liberal' Republican is not accurate. The report is not worth the paper it is written on, in my opinion," said Haynes. "They've created one formula for 50 different legislatures around the country. Each of these chambers operates differently. If they did it individually based on each state's rules and procedures, it would be more accurate. Frankly, it's just wrong."
Haynes pointed out the report obviously places too much weight on the quantity of legislation passed.
"There's this one dot at the very top of the chart way above everyone else. It shows Representative Judd Matheny being several times more effective than any other legislator in the state. He is the chair of the House Government Operations Committee, so his name is on a large amount of different rule changes that we're all quickly voting 99 to nothing to pass," said Haynes. "That's not a criticism of Matheny or me saying he is not effective. I'm just pointing out the methodology these folks are using is not weighing small procedural votes any different than major legislation."
The report says Knoxville Democrat Gloria Johnson is the most liberal member of the House. Johnson said she is not sure how the report arrived at that conclusion and she does not care.
"I don't put a lot of emphasis on labels," said Johnson. "Labels are divisive and not productive. You put labels on people and you set folks up so they cannot work together."
Johnson said her legislative record shows a willingness to get things done as opposed to focusing on partisanship.
"The legislation I'm on, generally all of it has support from both sides. Sometimes very conservative folks are on my legislation and I'm on theirs as well. The report lists Stacey Campfield as the most conservative person in the Senate. I've been on bills with Stacey. Again, I don't look at those labels. I don't think labels are productive. I think they are divisive."
Whether or not the report is accurate, Johnson said she fully expects it to be cited for political gain.
"I certainly feel that I'm going to see this pop up in the campaign without a doubt. But I trust folks in my district to know me and my body of work. The things I've focused on were keeping jobs in Tennessee, educating every child, making sure women have equal pay for equal work, and making sure nobody loses their home because they get sick. Those are Tennessee values. They are not 'liberal' values," said Johnson.