The following story is the fifth of five to be published over two weeks based on voting data the Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting pulled for the 2017 legislative session. The nonprofit group analyzed the number of floor votes that each lawmaker cast the same as every other lawmaker. The result is a first of its kind look at voting patterns between Arizona legislators, revealing alike votes and disparities – some known anecdotally, others not seen before – between lawmakers, at times regardless of party affiliation. Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting set a minimum threshold of 230 alike votes in the House of Representatives and 435 alike votes in the state Senate to gauge how often lawmakers vote alike with one another.
The threshold could be expanded or shrunk, but think of the analysis like a microscope: zooming in too close, or not far enough, won’t reveal anything of interest. Finding the right magnification, or in this case, the right threshold of alike votes in each chamber, produces significant results and visualizes alike votes among legislators.
It’s a numbers game at the Arizona Capitol. Lawmakers need 31 yes votes in the House of Representatives and 16 votes in the Senate to get bills approved.
Nothing makes that task easier for GOP-sponsored bills than a reliable Republican.
Representatives like Vince Leach, R-Tucson, and Don Shooter, R-Yuma, and Sens. Nancy Barto, R-Phoenix and John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, are among the Republicans most faithful to their own caucus when it comes to voting, according to an analysis by the Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting.
In graphs depicting the voting patterns of the 2017 legislative session, their deep red dots indicate a propensity for voting alike with members of their own GOP caucus, and a distaste for bipartisan voting. That’s a contrast to some Republican lawmakers, and Democrats, who are lighter shades of red and blue, indicating they don’t always agree with legislators in their own party.
Their party loyalty can be ascribed to a variety of reasons: their seniority at the Capitol, and their positions as committee chairs. In the House, Leach and Shooter are “kind of in another layer of the leadership team,” said Rep. T.J. Shope, a Coolidge Republican who serves as speaker pro tem.
[Use the interactive data tool created by AZCIR to discover the alike votes between each representative HERE.]
In the case of Kavanagh and Shooter, heading the powerful Appropriations committees gives them a de facto leadership role since they control the committee that gets a first say on annual budget proposals, Shope said.
For Shooter, it’s simply a matter of being a “team player” in the Republican Party.
“It’s a team, and that’s the reason I traded (seats) with (Sen. Steve) Montenegro,” said Shooter, who swapped chambers with Montenegro in the 2016 elections – the two represent the same Legislative District 13. “It wasn’t particularly good for me, but it was good for the team so I took one for the team,” he added.
While Shooter also said he casts votes on behalf of the team, that doesn’t mean he’s not voting his conscience or is taking orders from leadership.
“I don’t do a damn thing I don’t want to do,” Shooter said.
It’s actually the caucus that drives leadership, and not the other way around, Kavanagh said.
[Use the interactive data tool created by AZCIR to discover the alike votes between each senator HERE.]
“There is no party line. Leadership does a lot of things, but they don’t sit down and decide what we vote for and we all fall in line,” he said. “Leadership has to agree with the caucus, not vice versa.”
With that in mind, Kavanagh attributes his reliably-red voting pattern to a simple truth in Arizona politics.
“We’re a red state, and we’re a conservative, red chamber, and I’m a conservative member,” Kavanagh said. “So it makes sense that I would be solidly conservative and vote with the caucus.”
Find out more about your lawmakers’ voting patterns below: