Friends of the taxpayer? Defenders of freedom? Lawmakers weigh in on legislative scorecard rankings

In this Jan. 27, 2020, file photo, lawmakers conduct business on the floor of the Utah House of Representatives in Salt Lake City. The Utah Legislature is wrapping up its work for the year, capping off a session that saw major changes to the state's polygamy statute, a revision of a voter-approved redistricting law and a compromise on education funding. The 45-day meeting is ending in the shadow of the new coronavirus, which caused widespread cancellations but didn't cause major disruptions in legislative business. | Photo by Rick Bowmer, Associated Press, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Each year following the conclusion of the Utah Legislature’s general session, various political watchdog and advocacy groups roll out scorecards ranking how individual legislators voted in relation to those groups’ particular agendas.

In this file photo, Rep. Walt Brooks, R-St. George, speaks on the House floor during the 2018 session of the Utah Legislature, Salt Lake City, Feb. 14, 2018 | Photo courtesy of the Utah Legislature, St. George News

Rated at the top of two legislative scorecards released so far this year are lawmakers representing Southern Utah.

According to scorecards from the Utah Taxpayers Association and Libertas Institute, those lawmakers’ votes have earned them labels as either “Friends of the Taxpayer” or “Defenders of Freedom.”

While these lawmakers said it’s nice to be recognized for their work, it only highlights a small portion of what they do during the 45-day legislative session.

They said they also work to avoid being influenced by the public recognition of various groups and simply focus on representing the interest of their constituents and the state.

• See all of St. George News’ coverage of the 2020 Utah Legislature here

“I try to vote for the right reason,” Ipson said. “My desire is to represent my constituents, and I hope I do my best at it.”

Ipson ranked at 90% according to votes that aligned with the priorities of Utah Taxpayers Association, which focused on 14 tax-related bills during the 2020 session. Brooks ranked at 92%.

These rankings put these two legislators among a handful of lawmakers that voted 90% and above in alignment with the association’s priorities, giving them the “Friends of the Taxpayer” label, according to a press release from the group.

“Legislators not only worked on tax reform over the previous year, but also considered many other tax related bills in the 2020 General Session,” Rusty Cannon, vice president of the Utah Taxpayers Association, said in the press release. “We hope the public takes notice of these legislators and thanks them for fighting for taxpayers, good tax policy and defending fiscally conservative principles at the state capitol.”

The Utah Taxpayers Association ranked Southern Utah legislators’ voting records during the 2020 general session as follows:

Utah House of Representatives Utah Senate
  • Walt Brooks – 92%
  • Travis Seegmiller – 81%
  • Brad Last – 80%
  • Lowry Snow – 76.9%
  • Rex Shipp – 76.9%
  • Phil Lyman – 69.2%
  • Don Ipson – 90%
  • David Hinkins – 83.3%
  • Evan Vickers – 81%
  • Ralph Okerlund – 80%

A breakdown of the 14 bills the Utah Taxpayers Association focused on and how other legislators voted can be found here.

“When I score high, it surprises me,” Brooks said. While he sees scorecards as a tool that can be used to gauge the legislative priorities for particular groups, he is also wary of their narrow focus.

In this file photo, Sen. Don Ipson, R-St. George, speaks on Senate floor on the Utah Legislature during the 2020 general session, Salt Lake City, Utah, March 5, 2020 | Photo courtesy of the Utah Legislature, St. George News

“They list a handful of bills out of over 500 we passed this year,” Brooks said, adding he also worries some people – even other legislators on occasion – may give such scorecards too much weight.

“They’re produced by organizations with their own set of opinions,” he said. “Some people look at them too hard and give them too much weight.”

Ipson added that constituents should do their own research on various legislation that interests them and contact their legislators with questions and not just go by what’s ranked on a special interest group’s legislative scorecard.

“People need to do their own due diligence,” he said.

Another scorecard released this year is the Libertas Institute’s Legislator Index, which tracked votes on a plethora of bills.

“While hundreds of votes are cast each year, Libertas chooses for its index the bills that directly relate to our mission to defend personal freedom, property rights, free markets, justice and due process, and limited and open government,” the libertarian-leaning Libertas Institute stated on its website.

In this 2019 file photo, Joni Molloy from Americans for Prosperity and Rep. Travis Seegmiller of House District 62 speak at the Pre-Legislative Boot Camp in St. George, Utah, Jan. 12, 2019 | File photo by Markee Heckenliable, St. George News

According to Libertas, the Legislature voted in accordance with libertarian ideals 64% of the time overall. The House was ranked at 63% and the Senate at 67%.

Individual legislators who voted 85% and above in line with Libertas’ legislative agenda were declared “Defenders of Freedom.” At the top of the list was Southern Utah Rep. Travis Seegmiller with a rating of 98%. He was followed Rep. Phil Lyman with 95%.

“Libertas recognizes the top 10% of our state lawmakers who best defend our Constitutional Liberties while also fighting for our state to have a small, frugal, Constitutionally limited state government,” Seegmiller said in a text to St. George News. “The values of Libertas often – but not always – align with my own core missions as a public servant, the reasons that I ran for office in the first place.”

Seegmiller said he was honored to be recognized for his efforts but added he doesn’t let the results of legislative scorecards or the opinion of certain groups influence how he votes. If there’s something that conflicts with his core values and the values of the people he represents, Seegmiller said he will vote against it.

Libertas Institute ranked Southern Utah legislators’ voting records during the 2020 general session as follows:

Utah House Utah Senate
  • Travis Seegmiller – 98%
  • Phil Lyman – 95%
  • Walt Brooks – 87%
  • Lowry Snow – 81%
  • Brad Last – 77%
  • Rex Shipp – 68%
  • Ralph Okerlund – 75%
  • Evan Vickers – 67.5%
  • Don Ipson – 64%
  • David Hinkins – 63%

A breakdown of the 27 bills the Libertas Institute focused on and how other legislators voted can be found here.

Other groups that produce annual legislative scorecards include Utah GrassRoots, Planned Parenthood of Utah, the Sutherland Institute, Sierra Club of Utah and the Alliance for a Better Utah.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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