Every baseball fan loves statistics, but there are no good statistics for judging the performance of legislators. One of the few statistics available is percentage of roll call votes missed, so that number takes on an outsize importance. I have worked hard to maintain a near perfect voting record in all my voting roles — as a citizen, as a Town Meeting member, as a Selectman, as a State Representative and as a Senator.
However, on July 30, I chose to attend an important meeting outside the State House in my role as Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on the Judiciary, even though I knew it would cause me to miss several hours of busy roll call voting. As a result, my stat for this year so far is the worst in the Senate — an abysmal 64.2% through July 30. The only votes I missed were on that day, but it looks bad. It is a token of my commitment to my job that I made this choice — doing the most valuable thing instead of the thing that looks best.
July 30 was the last day before the summer break. The Governor had vetoed a number of line items in the budget and the main agenda for the day was to cast dozens of roll call votes overriding those vetoes in quick succession. Generally, legislative leadership does not take up veto overrides unless they are certain they have the votes they need. The overrides were all expected to be heavily lop-sided and my vote would make no difference in the outcome.
The Massachusetts District Attorneys Association was also holding its summer meeting on that date. This was a special opportunity to sit down with the District Attorneys and hear their perceptions and concerns about legislation pending before the joint Committee on the Judiciary.
The voting agenda for the day included some potentially controversial issues in addition to the routine overrides. I coordinated with the Senate President to assure that those issues were voted on or otherwise resolved earlier in the day. Knowing that nothing controversial remained on the agenda, I announced on the floor that I was departing for the meeting and left the State House at 4PM. I returned to the State House at 10:30PM. By then the Senate had adjourned, so I missed 57 routine roll calls in the hours after 4PM. Afterwards, I submitted a statement for the record indicating how I would have voted on each of the roll calls that I missed.
Chairing a legislative committee is a great opportunity for leadership and service to the Commonwealth. Doing the job well means that you reach out to key constituencies relevant to your committee and understand their needs and concerns. I spend much of my time these days meeting with people involved in the criminal justice process — everyone from victims to ex-prisoners. I also spend a lot of time visiting courts, prisons and programs. I frequently travel long distances for these meetings. Each one of these meetings is valuable and hard to arrange.
I wanted to let people know the story behind the statistic.