How do you know if your state legislator is representing your values in Helena? For many Montanans, the only reference point they have is the legislator themselves. Every even-numbered year, the lawmaker shows up at their door to tell them how great of a job they did. Every odd-numbered year they seem to disappear into a black hole.
Most Montanans are too busy going about their lives to keep a close eye on Helena, and many legislators are too busy during the session to respond to emails. This is not a criticism of legislators or voters. It’s just the reality of our system.
And while Montana newspapers make a valiant effort to report accurately on the session, for many readers the legislative process remains opaque at best.
It costs too much — in time and money — for most people to peel back the layers to find out what’s really going on.
The result is that few Montanans have the opportunity to find out the totality of what happened during the legislative session and to understand if their representatives voted their values.
At Americans for Prosperity-Montana, we call this problem the Helena bubble. How can we expect Montanans to make educated decisions about who should represent them when their access to information is so limited?
To solve this problem, we launched Montanascorecard.com, which provides an easy-to-understand 0-100 score of each member’s voting record during the legislative session.
It has proven quite popular, but not everyone is enamored of the idea. Some legislators are so afraid of citizens knowing what they’re doing, in fact, that they consider keeping track of their votes a “veiled threat.”
In a way, I suppose, it is. It’s a threat to the legislature’s ability to conduct its business out of the public eye. It’s a threat to lawmakers’ doing one thing and telling voters another. It’s a threat to the big government status quo.
But legislators should be working for Montanans, not the other way around.
So Montanascorecard.com grades legislators based on their alignment with AFP-Montana’s philosophy of a free and open society on a simple 0-100 scale.
For example, freshman Missoula Rep. Adam Hertz scored 91 percent. Hertz did a great job advocating fora free and open society, and we believe the folks in his district deserve to know about those votes. And a scorecard, unlike anecdotal stories, can illustrate an overall alignment with values over time.
Kalispell Republican Rep. Frank Garner carried the gas tax increase and was overall unreliable on free-society issues. He scored 68 percent for the session, barely above his 60 percent lifetime rating. Now his constituents can be empowered to ask the hard questions that make democracy work.
Rating legislators isn’t some revolutionary concept. Other groups all along the political spectrum have similar scorecards. None, liberal or conservative, single-issue or broad-based, treats what they’re doing as a threat to lawmakers. We’re all holding them accountable for what they do. If members of the legislature can’t stand this little bit of heat, they know where the door out of the kitchen is.
If you believe in the values of individual rights and limited government, then Montanascorecard.com can be a great tool to see how your legislator is doing. I invite you to visit our website and check out your legislators’ votes. Very soon they will be showing up at your doorstep again to tell you how well they did. Now you can easily see for yourself.
--David Herbst is the Montana state director of Americans for Prosperity.