Cage match: LaVar Christensen vs Dan McCay

Rep. LaVar Christensen and Rep. Dan McCay are squaring off to fill a vacant seat in the Utah Senate. These two have served a long time together in the Utah House–long enough to cast a lot of opposing votes. So let’s compare their voting records.

Summary statistics

Let’s start with some statistics summarizing each legislator’s service, drawn from my statistical tables about the Utah Legislature. The statistics below include only service from 2011 on. For statistics where I don’t have a long term average handy, I have included the 2018 value.

Christensen McCay
General Sessions in House 2003-07, 2011-18 2012-18
Bills sponsored 7.6/year 9.0/year
Bills passed 4.3/year 4.0/year
Senate bills floor sponsored 1.1/year 10.1/year
Missed votes 5.4% of 5,441 8.6% of 4,790
Nay votes 4.5% of 5,441 14.1% of 4,790
Party support 97.7% in 2018 86.1% in 2018
Party support on party-line votes 84.1% in 2018 94.0% in 2018

Christensen and McCay sponsor and pass a similar number of their own bills, but there is a huge gap on floor sponsorship of Senators’ bills. Senators carefully choose Representatives to carry their bills through the House, so the difference in floor sponsorship rates suggest different reputations among Senators. In fact, this difference in floor sponsorship strikes me as the most telling difference in this table; one of these legislators has a track record over the past several sessions of working closely across chambers, and the other does not.

For missed votes, the chamber average each year is generally around 5-7%. Christensen tends to fall right within this average, with McCay slightly above it, but neither is particularly far from the average.

McCay is famous for his “nay” voting record, and particularly for voting “nay” on commemorative (i.e. non-policy) resolutions. He casts “nay” votes at more than triple the rate Christensen does.

Party support scores measure how often these legislators vote with the majority of their own party. In 2018, Rep. Christensen voted with the majority of House Republicans 97.7% of the time, versus 86.1% for Rep. McCay. The more telling measure, however, is how often these legislators vote with their party when there is a “party-line” vote–that is, a vote wherein a majority of Republicans votes opposite a majority of Democrats. On party-line votes the scores flip, with Christensen voting with his party 84.1% of the time versus McCay’s 94.0%.

Specific votes

Over the past 7 General Sessions, Christensen and McCay have participated together in 4,136 votes, disagreeing 627 times (15%). (I exclude votes where one or both was absent.) That means 85% of the time it wouldn’t matter whether Christensen or McCay is the one casting a vote–you would get the same result either way.

If we narrow it to close votes–that is, where there were no more than 55 of 75 Representatives on the same side of the vote–then Christensen and McCay have participated in 555 votes, disagreeing on a phenomenal 272 of them (49%). That’s enough to make it hard to tell from the record whether they even belong to the same party.

Of these 272 disagreements on close votes, 3 were 38-37 decisions. That is, 3 were decided by a single vote, and either Christensen or McCay could have changed the outcome by switching his vote.

These 3 pivotal votes appear at the top of the table below, which lists every time Christensen and McCay cast opposing votes when the overall “ayes” vs “nays” margin was 9 or less. (The table is sorted so that votes with the closest “ayes” vs “nays” margins appear at the top.)

Bill Vote (ayes-nays-absent) Christensen McCay
HJR018 (2016) House/ passed 3rd reading (38-37-0) no yes
HB0176 (2017) House/ passed 3rd reading (38-37-0) yes no
HB0348S02 (2017) House/ passed 3rd reading (38-37-0) yes no
HB0424 (2012) House/ failed (36-37-2) yes no
HCR006S01 (2015) House/ passed 3rd reading (38-36-1) no yes
HB0428S01 (2017) House/ passed 3rd reading (38-36-1) yes no
HB0278S01 (2013) House/ failed (37-35-3) yes no
HB0358 (2014) House/ failed (36-38-1) no yes
SB0097S03 (2014) House/ failed (35-37-3) yes no
HB0078 (2017) House/ failed (34-36-5) no yes
HB0406S01 (2015) House/ passed 3rd reading (39-36-0) yes no
HB0298S03 (2012) House/ floor amendment (38-35-2) yes no
HB0381 (2013) House/ passed 3rd reading (38-35-2) yes no
HB0210S01 (2012) House/ failed (36-39-0) no yes
HB0068 (2018) House/ failed (34-37-4) no yes
HB0164S02 (2018) House/ failed (33-36-6) yes no
SB0078 (2013) House/ passed 3rd reading (38-34-3) yes no
HB0291S01 (2017) House/ floor amendment failed (35-39-1) no yes
HJR014 (2015) House/ failed (34-38-3) no yes
SB0251S03 (2016) House/ floor amendment # 1 (40-35-0) no yes
HB0395S05 (2017) House/ passed 3rd reading (39-34-2) yes no
HB0414 (2012) House/ passed 3rd reading (38-33-4) yes no
HB0091S01 (2014) House/ failed (35-40-0) yes no
HJR015S02 (2015) House/ failed (32-37-6) yes no
HB0376S01 (2015) House/ passed 3rd reading (40-34-1) no yes
HB0069S01 (2015) House/ passed 3rd reading (39-33-3) yes no
HB0409 (2014) House/ passed 3rd reading (39-33-3) yes no
HB0011S02 (2016) House/ failed (32-38-5) yes no
HB0326 (2017) House/ failed (32-38-5) no yes
SB0041S05 (2012) House/ passed 3rd reading (39-32-4) yes no
SB0150 (2015) House/ passed 3rd reading (39-32-4) yes no
HB0260S01 (2018) House/ passed 3rd reading (39-32-4) yes no
SB0115S04 (2016) House/ failed (33-40-2) no yes
SB0033S01 (2015) House/ failed (32-39-4) yes no
HB0274 (2013) House/ passed 3rd reading (41-33-1) yes no
SB0134S03 (2015) House/ passed 3rd reading (41-33-1) yes no
HB0220S01 (2016) House/ passed 3rd reading (41-33-1) yes no
HJR008 (2016) House/ passed 3rd reading (41-33-1) no yes
HB0254S01 (2018) House/ passed 3rd reading (41-33-1) no yes
HB0088S02 (2013) House/ passed 3rd reading (40-32-3) yes no
SB0136S06 (2018) House Conference Committee – Final Passage (40-32-3) yes no
HB0246 (2013) House/ concurs with Senate amendment (39-31-5) yes no
SB0078 (2015) House/ passed 3rd reading (39-31-5) no yes
HB0163S02 (2018) House/ passed 3rd reading (39-31-5) no yes
SB0129 (2018) House/ passed 3rd reading (38-30-7) no yes
SB0099 (2018) House/ failed (31-39-5) yes no
HB0079S01 (2015) House/ passed 3rd reading (41-32-2) yes no
HB0246 (2013) House/ passed 3rd reading (41-32-2) yes no
HB0447S02 (2015) House/ passed 3rd reading (40-31-4) yes no
HB0332S01 (2016) House/ passed 3rd reading (40-31-4) yes no
SB0284S01 (2013) House/ passed 3rd reading (38-29-8) no yes
HJR008S01 (2014) House/ failed (32-41-2) no yes
HB0394S02 (2015) House/ failed (32-41-2) no yes
SB0149S02 (2016) House/ failed (32-41-2) yes no
HB0360S03 (2017) House/ failed (32-41-2) yes no
SB0097S03 (2014) House/ floor amendment failed (31-40-4) no yes
HB0187S01 (2016) House/ failed (31-40-4) yes no
HB0284 (2018) House/ failed (30-39-6) no yes
HB0307 (2013) House/ failed (29-38-8) no yes

Opposing votes matter more on close votes than on lopsided ones, so I’ll cut the table off there. If you really want to see comparisons where the overall margin was greater than 9, email me I guess.

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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.
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