Club for Growth Foundation (CFGF) released exclusively to The Tennessee Star the Tennessee General Assembly Missed Votes Scorecard for the 2021 regular and special legislative sessions.
Club for Growth is the nation’s leading free-enterprise advocacy group focused on key economic policy and known for holding legislators accountable by publicizing their voting record.
The new initiative was launched by CFGF in February 2021 to inform voters which of their state legislators are showing up to do their jobs by voting and which ones aren’t.
“Constituents need to know the missed votes records of their representatives so they can decide for themselves if elected officials are avoiding a difficult vote or have a legitimate reason for missing a particular vote. Sadly, this information is often not available, and that is why the CFGF is publishing Missed Votes scorecards,” said Club for Growth Foundation President David McIntosh about the organization’s effort.
As CFGF points out, lawmakers miss votes for a variety of reasons, including medical issues, family concerns, or other reasons.
Legislators, however, may also miss votes because they are purposely avoiding a particular issue or going against leadership, CFGF reported.
CFGF does not pass judgment on why lawmakers miss votes but publishes the quantified information for voter education purposes only. In Tennessee, CFGF based the missed votes scorecard on calculations of all floor votes taken in both chambers from January 12 to May 5.
On average, Tennessee senators missed 6% of 2,105 total floor votes. Republican senators, on average, were present for more votes, missing 4% of all floor votes. Meanwhile, Democrat senators averaged missing 15% of all floor votes.
Sen. Katrina Robinson (D-Memphis), who was indicted in 2020 on federal charges of theft and embezzlement and charged in 2021 with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and money laundering, missed the most votes at 834 out of 2,105 for a score of 40%.
Missing just three votes, Sen. Bill Powers (R-Clarksville) had the best score in the Senate of 0% missed votes.
Tennessee House of Representatives
The average Tennessee House member missed more votes than the average Senate member, at 8% of 2,344 total floor votes. Like the Senate, average Republican House members missed less votes at 7% while average Democrat House members missed 11% of all floor votes.
There were two significant extenuating circumstances in the House.
Rep. David Byrd (R-Waynesboro) contracted COVID-19 and was hospitalized and put on a ventilator in December 2020. Due to his illness, Byrd missed the entire session and all 2,344 floor votes.
Rep. Mike Carter (R-Ooltewah), after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in November 2020 while being treated for COVID-19, passed away in May 2021 having missed 2,312 floor votes.
Rep. Jason Potts (D-Nashville), who missed 1,398 of the 2,344-floor votes, had the next lowest score of 60% missed votes.
Rep. Curtis Johnson (R-Clarksville) was present for the most votes, missing just one, which gave him a score of 0% missed votes.
Lawmakers who missed at least 10% of the votes were given an opportunity to provide CFGF with an explanation, which two legislators took advantage of.
Sen. Jon Lundberg (R-Bristol) replied, “The only votes I know I missed were during the period when I had COVID-19 and was quarantined.”
Rep. Brandon Ogles (R-Franklin) was complimentary of CFGF efforts in the scorecard.
“I appreciate you reaching out regarding the scorecard, I think it’s great that you put that together to keep us accountable. Unfortunately, I was out with COVID-19 starting 3/15/21 and was not healthy enough to return until 4/26/21,” Ogles responded.
Voter Polling on Missed Votes
A CFGF poll released Tuesday reveals voters by a high percentage in both parties expect their elected representatives to show up and vote, have minimal willingness to accept missed votes, and are prepared to hold their elected representatives accountable for missing high numbers of votes.
Key takeaways from the Club for Growth poll, conducted by WPA Intelligence surveying 1,000 voters nationwide between July 20 and 28 follow:
- Voters nationwide say that it is “very important” to them personally that their elected representatives consistently show up to vote on legislation. Nearly three-quarters (73%) of voters say it is “very important” to them personally that their elected representatives show up to vote. Only 6% say that it is “not too important” or “not important at all” that their elected representative show up consistently to vote.
- There is bi-partisan agreement on the importance that elected representatives show up to vote. Four-in-five (79%) Republicans and nearly three-quarters (74%) of Democrats say it is “very important” to them personally that their elected representatives show up to vote.
- Voters are only willing to allow a small number of missed votes before they question their elected representative’s commitment. A plurality of voters (45%) say they would allow only 5% of votes or fewer to be missed.
- A vast majority of voters – 74% – expect an elected representative who misses more votes than the maximum the voter gave in the previous question, that the legislator resign.
If members of the Tennessee legislature were held to the 5% or less standard preferred by a plurality of survey participants in the Club for Growth poll, voters would expect at least 9 senators and 42 representatives to resign for the number of votes they missed during the 2021 legislative session.
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Laura Baigert is a senior reporter at The Star News Network, where she covers stories for The Tennessee Star, The Georgia Star News, The Ohio Star and The Arizona Sun Times.