It's hard to miss Joe Neguse these days.
Already a regular on cable news shows during his first term, the Lafayette Democrat's turn as a House impeachment manager in former President Donald Trump's second Senate trial earlier this year sent his profile soaring.
On Thursday at the White House, as President Joe Biden announced a series of executive actions aimed at tightening gun control, Neguse was one of seven lawmakers seated in chairs on the lawn, a nod to Biden's adoption of a regulation on firearms devices proposed by Neguse.
And in the 14 months before the pandemic hit, Neguse could regularly be found meeting with constituents at town halls across the 2nd Congressional District, including at several "service" town halls, an invention his office came up with that combines the civic meetings with volunteer projects at local nonprofits.
His record holding town halls during his first term earned Neguse plaudits from the nonpartisan Town Hall Project, which found he held more of the events than any other freshman House member in 2019.
It turns out Neguse hasn't just been a media darling and town hall maven. He was also the most effective legislator by leaps and bounds in Colorado's delegation in the last Congress, according to a recently released report from the nonpartisan Center for Effective Lawmaking — all the more impressive because it was the attorney and former CU regent's first term.
For the 116th Congress, from 2019-2020, Neguse managed to pass nine pieces of legislation out of more than 50 he introduced, ranking him eighth out of 240 House Democrats on the study's effectiveness scale.
The center, a joint research project by Vanderbilt University and the University of Virginia, keeps track of 15 different metrics to determine federal lawmakers' effectiveness, from the number of bills introduced to the results at each step of the legislative process, including making it to the floor of the House or Senate and — in rare cases — to the president's desk for a signature. The report also assigns more weight to more significant bills, so a lawmaker who sponsors major legislation gets more points than one who names a post office, for instance.
The scholars also develop a "benchmark" score by averaging the effectiveness of lawmakers with the same level of senior and minority or majority status, as well as whether they chair a committee or subcommittee. That number helps determine whether lawmakers perform better or worse than expected, since a freshman lawmaker in the minority party probably isn't going to get as much passed as a senior lawmaker who chairs a powerful committee.
“Of the 96 freshmen in the 116th U.S. House of Representatives, we found that 25 exceeded expectations as lawmakers," the report's authors wrote. "Those freshmen scored in ways that reflected typical party differences, with majority-party Democrats outperforming minority-party Republicans. Topping the list are Reps. Joe Neguse and Elaine Luria, both of whom were also featured on the top 10 list for House Democrats.”
Neguse was at or near the top of the charts no matter how you sort it — ranking as the most effective Colorado legislator, tied for the most effective member of the 116th Congress's freshman class and the most effective House lawmaker on public lands, with six of the nine bills he passed related to public lands.
In February, analysts at data-heavy GovTrack organization, using similar data weighted somewhat differently, reported Neguse was the second-most effective House member in the country from either party, tied with Maryland's U.S. Rep. Anthony Brown.
Former Democratic U.S. Rep. Nita Lowey of New York, who chaired the House Appropriations Committee and retired in January, topped both organizations' effectiveness lists.
“Our approach has always been to lead locally, and listen first," Neguse said in a statement.
"Through countless conversations throughout our district, speaking with Coloradans of all backgrounds and working collaboratively with the people of our state, we’ve been able to introduce and enact legislation that solves problems and reflects the needs and priorities of our communities.”
He added that he looks forward to "collaborating with President Biden in the important work ahead to assist our communities as we recover from the pandemic, ensure every American has access to a good paying job and quality education, and tackling the existential threat of climate change.”
Neguse's weighted score of 3.509 was twice as high as the last Congress's second-most effective Coloradan, former U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton. The Cortez Republican scored 1.749 and was the only other member of the House delegation who "exceeded" expectations, according to another set of calculations performed by the report's authors.
Tipton, who was defeated in a primary last year by political newcomer Lauren Boebert, ranked as the 11th most effective House Republican, with high marks for legislation involving housing, public lands and energy.
The study ranked former U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner as the 10th most effective Republican senator, aligning with similar rankings on other reports touted by Gardner in campaign ads last year — but voters also sent him packing.
Gardner, who was in the majority in the Senate, wound up with a 1.840 score for the last Congress — the highest score he achieved during the three congresses that made up his six-year term — after sponsoring high-profile legislation including the Great American Outdoors Act and a bill to create a national three-digit suicide prevention hotline.
None of the other Coloradans finished the just-completed 116th Congress with a score above the median 1.0.
Among the majority Democrats in the House, Ed Perlmutter scored 0.861, Diana DeGette scored 0.772 and Jason Crow scored 0.557. House Republicans Doug Lamborn scored 0.386 and Ken Buck scored 0.159.
Gardner's Democratic counterpart, U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, landed near the bottom of his party's ranks, coming in 41st of 45 Senate Democrats with a score of 0.270.
Neguse didn't just turn in a standout performance in the last Congress. Although the scores don't precisely compare across the years — Congress used to get a lot more done than it has in recent years — the center found that he was the third-most effective Colorado lawmaker in the last decade.
The two members of the Colorado delegation who legislated more effectively than Neguse over the last five congresses, at least according to the Center for Effective Lawmaking's measure, both lost their bids for re-election soon after their triumphs.
One of them was Tipton, who topped the delegation's effectiveness ranks in the 115th Congress, from 2017-2018, with a score of 3.988. That was good enough to earn him a rank as the eighth-most effective House Republican for the period.
The most effective Coloradan since 2010, however, was former U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman, an Aurora Republican, who scored 4.368 in the 113th Congress, from 2013-2014, and finished in 11th place among House Republicans. Coffman lost his re-election race to Crow in 2018 but rebounded the next year to win election as Aurora mayor.
It turns out that more effective lawmakers have a harder time winning re-election than ineffective lawmakers, according to a January 2019 paper, though any correlation is minor.
Neguse, who won his first and second terms representing the heavily Democratic 2nd CD by around 26 percentage points each time — running against little known Republicans Peter Yu and Charles Winn, respectively — could be the exception that proves the rule.
The Center for Effective Lawmaking has collected data going back almost 50 years, to the 93rd Congress, which ran from 1973-1974.
Over that stretch, the Colorado lawmaker with the highest legislative effectiveness score was U.S. Rep. Tim Wirth in the 97th Congress, from 1981-1982. The Boulder Democrat's score of 6.630, though, was only good enough to earn 11th place among House Democrats during what turned out to be an exceptionally productive era of lawmaking.
Wirth, who served six terms in the House before serving one term in the Senate, also had the second-highest effectiveness score posted by a Colorado lawmaker, with 5.420 in the 98th Congress, when he ranked 13th among House Democrats.