Voting on legislation is the singular most important part of the state representative's job and in that role, I have endeavored to cast the approximate 1,000 yearly votes according to a set of clear and consistent criteria.
Here is my voting strategy: I have never and will never intentionally walk or miss a vote, and I will cast each vote in a consistent manner which is not capricious or arbitrary but is instead aligned with the principles that I campaigned on as a candidate for office (i.e., my verbal contract with the House District 31 constituency, a contract that I cannot violate.)
As I have attempted to apply principle to policy, I have found that I have evolved into one of the House's most prolific "no" voters. That said, it's been my goal to never fall into the trap of voting no for the sake of voting no but to be able to explain each no vote. I have found that if I have a sound and consistent basis for voting, other House members are appreciative of the thought process behind the no vote even though it is a vote against their bill. While they may disagree with my reasoning—they know that the vote is not personal.
To accomplish the goal of consistent principle-based voting, I have developed a checklist of factors; the violation of any single factor will likely lead me to vote no on a proposal. It's a simple six-part checklist, but I suspect it catches up to 30 percent of the bills that we consider each year.
It is as follows:
Are new government bureaucracies, boards, or commissions created by the proposal? If so, I will almost always vote no. In some years, I have found that lawmakers attempted to create new government entities about as fast as we could repeal old ones.
Does the proposal increase fees or taxes? These types of proposals still appear and advance through the Legislature several times a year. At a time when one can reasonably state that federal, state and local government taxes, fees and pass-on costs to the taxpayer take over 50% of his income, there is a great calling for conscientious legislators to stand in defense of the taxpayer. Instead of raising fees and taxes, government must become more efficient and cost-effective. These bills are an easy no vote for me.
Are tax loopholes, corporate welfare, pork earmarks, special interest benefits, payouts or programs created or expanded? These bills frequently create specific government giveaways and have created the current and untenable state of dirigisme; i.e., the state's most affluent and powerful citizens are also some of the most dependent upon growing and expanding the size of government—a fact that explains why many leading members of the state's majority party have devolved into a regrettable state of continual and perpetual conflict with the principles upon which they purport to believe as they campaign for election and re-election. I have regretted observing the principle-gutting impact of these bills, they have wreaked havoc on the values of lawmakers, and for me, these proposals are always an immediate red vote.
Will new government regulations result if the bill is approved? The Legislature considers numerous bills that expand current law. While there are sometimes good reasons for these proposals, more often than not, the right vote is the no vote.
Does the bill exempt government agencies from transparency laws? Each year agencies sponsor bills to create new open records and open meetings exemptions and it is vital to stop these bills whenever possible.
Are systemic checks and balances upon corruption (such as purchasing laws) weakened? For example, every so often the Legislature takes the unfortunate step of increasing no-bid purchasing limits. I have grown very uncomfortable with the pace by which these limits are being lifted (especially as it relates to county government spend) and I fear that a systemic operandi of corruption could easily backfill the void left in the absence of purchasing system checks and balances.
Of course, this list is a simplistic and basic set of criteria and there is certainly additional nuance to voting on a proposal; however, if a lawmaker can consistently cast his votes according to this simple checklist, he will generally support and defend taxpayers from intrusive and overreaching government and the special interests which exert much more influence over the government than the average constituent.