Friday, June 04, 2010

EDITORIAL >>Joyce Elliott for Congress

First you have to stipulate that both Rep. Robbie Wills and Sen. Joyce Elliott have been unusually effective state legislators, which seems to have become the big issue in their runoff race for United States representative — that and which one is most electable in November.

Legislative effectiveness is a complex and spurious issue but it was raised by Wills, who may have the most to lose if people start to seriously study their records. Wills, the current speaker of the Arkansas House of Representatives, sent out a flyer across the district saying that Elliott was more liberal than most Arkansas voters and that she had been one of the most

“ineffective” members of the legislature. In a debate on National Public Radio, he said he had not personally described her as ineffective but that he had merely cited the Arkansas Legislative Digest, which said so.

But that was not quite true. The Legislative Digest merely computed the number of bills each legislator introduced in the 2009 session and the percentage of them that actually passed and were signed into law. If you sponsored one inconsequential bill and it became law, you were a powerful legislator.

Wills topped the list. He sponsored two bills and both passed. One was a big one: It implemented the lottery that voters ratified in 2008. The other authorized him to appoint someone to serve in his place on two minor interim committees dealing with legislative printing and facilities. Oh, and he sponsored a resolution recognizing “Arkansas Jaycees Day.” He steamrolled the opposition and got it passed.

Elliott was way, way down the percentage list. She sponsored 32 bills in 2009 and only 19 of them became law. Many were controversial. Elliott doesn’t sidle away from controversy like most legislators do.

You be the judge: Who was the more effective — Wills with two of two or Elliott with 19 of 32? Yes, we know that the speaker usually shies away from shepherding bills. He’s busy presiding over the House. Wills, like Elliott, was an active, even prolific, lawmaker in his first two terms. But if you rely on a simplistic measure for your opponent, you can’t make an exception for yourself.

Wills has one other big argument. He says he is more electable than Elliott. She is more identifiably liberal than he is, which will be a hard sell in the rural and suburban precincts of the seven counties against the celebrated dirty trickster, Tim Griffin, who is already running against Nancy Pelosi, the Californian who is speaker of the U.S. House but may not be in January.

The unspoken message is that the Second District, which is 88 percent white, will never vote for a black woman of any persuasion, even a teacher of many years, and that Democrats ought to nominate someone who is safer, and whiter.

He may be right, but we still believe that Joyce Elliott is the best choice for Congress.