Cage match: Janice Fisher and Fred Cox

Representatives Cox and Fisher disagreed 54% of the time on close votes.

The new legislative district maps adopted a few months back placed two Utah legislators into the same district: Republican Fred Cox and Democrat Janice Fisher. Now that both have secured their parties’ nominations, they will face each other in November. I compared their legislative records last December when they were first drawn into the same district; let’s do an update now that the general election campaign is about to begin.

Background

Rep. Fisher has served 8 years1 in the Utah House; Rep. Cox has served 2. Their service overlapped in 2011 and 2012, so all the information in this post is drawn from those two general sessions.

Neither legislator has held any leadership positions within the Utah House. The table below compares their legislative service records along a handful of dimensions. I present each representative’s average from the 2011-2012 general sessions, followed by the overall chamber average from the Utah House as a whole.

Rep. Fisher Rep. Cox Utah House
Missed votes 5.8% 0.4% 6.4%
Bills introduced 1.5 4.5 6.4
“Nay” votes 13.1% 7.4% 8.1%
Party support 95.4% 93.9% 94.0%

If you want more information about how a particular statistic was calculated, or if you want to see a particular statistic for all 104 legislators, click on the relevant link in the table.

There’s not a lot to learn from the statistics in this table. Both legislators have better-than-average attendance records. Both introduce fewer bills than average. Both are close to average in the frequency of their “nay” votes. (It’s not surprising that a member of the minority party would vote “nay” more often than a member of the majority party, given that most bills coming to a vote would be sponsored by members of the majority party.) And both legislators are loyal partisans, voting with their co-partisans 94-95 percent of the time.

Disagreements

Over the course of the 2011 and 2012 sessions, there were 1,222 occasions when Representatives Cox and Fisher were both present and voting on the same question. Of these 1,222 votes, they disagreed 198 times (or 16.2% of the time).

Bear in mind, however, that most votes in the Utah legislature pass by overwhelming margins, with Democrats and Republicans alike finding consensus and voting together to pass a bill. (See “Consensus Voting is Still the Norm in the Utah Legislature” for details.)

To make this comparison more interesting, let’s focus on “close votes,” which I define as a vote where fewer than 55 of the House’s 75 members were on the winning side. Of the 1,222 votes, only 200 were “close votes” by this standard. Of these 200 close votes, Representatives Fisher and Cox disagreed 108 times. In other words, Representatives Cox and Fisher disagreed 54% of the time on close votes. That’s enough to give voters something to work with.

If you wish to see a list of every disagreement, download this Excel file. It contains two sheets. The first lists their 108 disagreements on close votes; the second lists all 198 disagreements.

When disagreements matter most

It takes 38 “aye” votes to succeed in the Utah House, so the most interesting disagreements are those where there were exactly 37 or 38 “aye” votes cast. These are the occasions when disagreements matter most. If both legislators had voted “nay,” then the vote would have failed; if both had voted “aye,” then the vote would have passed. There was one such occasion in 2012 and one in 2011.2

In 2012, the House approved HJR 13, which would have placed an item on the ballot asking voters whether the state should enact a new sales tax “to support and enhance heritage, arts, culture, and museums throughout the state.” It squeaked through the House with 38 votes, the minimum required. Representative Cox voted “nay” while Representative Fisher voted “aye.” The bill would have failed if Rep. Fisher switched her vote. (This bill was later repealed in a special session.)

In 2011, the House defeated HB 339, which would “authorize the State Board of Education to annually approve an increase in charter school enrollment capacity.” It received 37 “aye” votes, one short of the 38 needed. Representative Fisher voted “nay” while Representative Cox voted “aye.” The bill would have passed if Rep. Fisher switched her vote.3

These weren’t the most important bills considered by the Utah House in 2011-2012. Neither attracted any press attention that I can remember. These were simply the two votes where a disagreement between Cox and Fisher was decisive for the outcome. I don’t have the time to sift through the Excel file listing every disagreement, but if some enterprising reporter wants to undertake that effort and look for information that will be useful to voters, I’d be happy to link to the results.

Further reading

I have produced detailed service records for each member of the Utah legislature. You can read Rep. Janice Fisher’s profile or Rep. Fred Cox’s profile. To help put the statistics from these profiles into context, see “What have we learned about the 2012 Utah legislature?

The best way to get a feel for how these two good public servants differ in their issue positions is to¬†download the Excel file listing all their disagreements and poke around. The file doesn’t list the topic for each bill, but it contains a link the Legislature’s entry for each vote. From there, you can find the bill number, which you should plug into the Legislature’s “quick bill search” form in the upper-right part of their website.

Possibly related posts:

About Adam Brown

Adam Brown is an assistant professor of political science at Brigham Young University and a research fellow with the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy. You can learn more about him at his website.
This entry was posted in Everything and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.