Colorado Democrats Joe Neguse and Jason Crow finished near the top of a list of the most effective lawmakers in the last Congress, according to a report released last week by the nonpartisan Center for Effective Lawmaking.
The scorecard, covering two year's worth of legislative work in the 117th Congress from early 2021 to the beginning of this year, ranked Neguse in third place and Crow in fifth place among 232 House Democrats, when both were serving their second terms.
Neguse, who represents the 2nd Congressional District, saw 13 of the nearly 90 bills he sponsored signed into law during the two-year period, while the president signed 10 of the more than 50 bills introduced by Crow, who represents the 6th Congressional District.
It's Neguse's second appearance on the center's list in as many terms. In the previous 116th Congress, in session from 2019 to 2021, Neguse landed in eighth place out of 240 House Democrats and tied with another lawmaker as the most effective members of the House's freshmen class. In both two-year studies, Neguse was deemed the most effective House lawmaker on public lands legislation.
"We're grateful for the recognition," Neguse told Colorado Politics. "We've built a great team over the course of the last several years that is really focused on serving Colorado, serving the people of the 2nd District, and doing everything that we can to enact good public policy that's rooted in making people's lives better. Any time we get a recognition like this, of course, it's humbling, and while we're grateful to be, I guess, the third most effective office in the House, we'd like to be the first, so we're back at it, working hard in this Congress to build on those achievements in the last Congress and do what we can here to make more progress going forward."
Neguse said the broad range of topics addressed in the legislation he's introduced is often inspired by constituents encountered at town halls.
"From improving wildfire mitigation, investing in our rural and mountain communities and creating opportunities for small businesses and entrepreneurs, my office strives to lead locally, always listening to the people of Colorado first," Neguse said.
The 38-year old attorney and former University of Colorado regent won similar accolades a month ago, when GovTrack.US, an independent legislative tracking service, determined that Neguse had more bills signed into law than any other House member during the 117th Congress.
The Center for Effective Lawmaking — a joint project of Vanderbilt University and the University of Virginia — arrives at its rankings using a more complicated system that tracks bills using 15 metrics in an attempt to determine whether lawmakers meet, exceed or fall below expectations for legislators in similar circumstances.
The scholars track the fate of every piece of legislation, assigns scores based on how far bills get in the legislative process, giving more weight to bills classified as substantial and significant, as opposed to merely commemorative, and rank members of the majority and minority parties on different scales, since members of the party in power tend to pass more legislation.
The scores are also broken down by chamber, taking into account differences between legislative pace in the House and Senate.
After crunching all the numbers, the scholars identify a "benchmark" score by assessing the average effectiveness of lawmakers in the same party, considering seniority and whether they chair a committee or subcommittee — all factors that can influence a legislative track record. Legislators who outperform their benchmark by 50% or more are said to exceed expectations, while those who fall below 50% of their benchmark come in below expectations, with those in between meeting expectations.
By those measures, Neguse scored 6.376 and Crow scored 4.52. The House Democrats ranking ahead of Neguse were Virginia Rep. Gerald Connelly, with a 7.142 score, and New York Rep. Carolyn Maloney, with 6.802. In fourth place was Connecticut Rep. Rosa DeLauro with a score of 5.653.
The other members of Colorado's congressional delegation fell back in the pack.
According to the study, in the House only Republican Ken Buck joined Neguse and Crow in exceeding expectations, with a score of 1.104 — good enough for 31st place among the chamber's 222 GOP lawmakers — while first-term Republican Lauren Boebert met expectations with a score of 0.292. The other members of Colorado's House delegation in the last Congress — Democrats Diana Degette and Ed Perlmutter and Republican Doug Lamborn — all scored lower and were classified as performing below expectations.
In the Senate, Democrat John Hickenlooper, who was sworn in at the start of the 117th Congress, scored 0.689, which the study's authors said met expectations, while Democrat Michael Bennet, who was elected last year to a third full term, fell below expectations with a score of 0.328.
Not everyone agrees with the center's system, with some noting that sponsoring bills isn't the one way to influence policy. Lamborn, for instance, as a member of the House Armed Services Committee who sits on the powerful strategic forces subcommittee — in the lasts Congress he was its ranking member, and this session he chairs the subcommittee — managed to insert dozens of amendments into the annual defense bill last year, notching achievements that aren't reflected in the center's scoring.
One of the studies authors, Craig Volden, a co-director of the center, said in a release that the study helps bring to light the kind of bipartisan lawmaking that often goes unnoticed.
"Our report highlights the Democrats and Republicans who have worked hard to tackle the nation's public policy challenges," he said. "While the 117th Congress was known for high-profile bipartisan efforts on issues from Ukraine to infrastructure to same-sex marriage, our work shows such bipartisanship extending behind the scenes."
"Contrary to popular perception," said the center's other co-director, Alan Wiseman, "there are serious lawmakers in Congress."
Neguse said he's holding out hope that he can maintain the pace under the new Republican majority in this Congress.
"We're going to make every effort to get our bills across the finish line, irrespective of where the political winds are heading here in Washington," he said, noting that he was able to pass plenty of bills in his first term when former President Trump was in office and the GOP controlled the Senate.
"We're always committed to working in good faith with folks across the aisle and finding partners to develop common-sense solutions on some of these challenges that we face as a country and certainly as a state," he said. "And I think that's in part why we've been able to get as many bills across the finish line as we have."
"I will say," Neguse continued, "reflecting on the first three months of the 118th Congress, it has been incredibly frustrating for an active office like ours, to see the the sort of snail's pace of legislation on the floor. The reality is, the volume of bills that have been passed by the House in the last three months pales in comparison to the start of virtually every Congress in the last 25 years, so it has not been a particularly productive start in the 118 Congress. That's unfortunate. I'm hoping my colleagues on their side of the aisle will pick up the pace, and we're certainly trying to motivate them to do that."
Ernest Luning has covered politics for Colorado Politics and its predecessor publication, The Colorado Statesman, since 2009. He's analyzed the exploits, foibles and history of state campaigns and politicians since 2018 in the weekly Trail Mix column.
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