San Francisco’s lawmakers among Capitol’s most independent

San Francisco’s state lawmakers are firmly Democratic, and there is hardly any doubt that voters will continue to select Democrats as their representatives in Sacramento when heading to the polls. But once in the Capitol, the lawmakers who currently represent The City are among the most independent of legislators, according to a new analysis of voting patterns done by The Sacramento Bee.

That newspaper tallied how many times Democrats and Republicans broke from their parties’ ranks during more than 3,000 votes in the 2011-12 legislative session. Overall, no lawmakers voted against their parties for the majority of the votes, and Republicans broke ranks more than Democrats did — although this doesn’t come as a surprise, since the Democrats control both houses of the Legislature. Republican legislators are generally free to break ranks with their party more often because such votes are less likely to sway the ultimate outcome of any legislative vote in the Democratic-dominated bodies.

State Sen. Leland Yee displayed the greatest independence of any local legislator, voting against the Democratic Party majority in 2.6 percent of the votes he cast in the last legislative session (or 86 times out of 3,273).
Other San Francisco-based lawmakers also landed on the list of the top 10 most independent Democrats.

Assemblyman Tom Ammiano voted against his party 1.7 percent of the time (60 of his 3,585 votes), and state Sen. Mark Leno voted independently 1.4 percent of the time (45 of his 3,273 votes).

Not appearing on this list was Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, who bucked her party a mere 0.6 percent of the time (21 of her 3,585 votes). But perhaps this should not be surprising, since Ma serves as the speaker pro tempore of the Assembly — a position of party leadership likely to make it harder for her to buck the system.

It is encouraging to see lawmakers from this bastion of the Democratic Party occasionally set aside their party’s ideology and vote on issues with an independent eye — although no one should conclude that any of these officials truly bucks his or her party all that often. We would be concerned if our elected officials voted in lockstep with their party on all issues of statewide importance.

What the voting record really seems to indicate is that the lawmakers San Francisco has sent to Sacramento are relatively independent by legislative standards — thinkers who value logic and facts over firmly entrenched ideological stances.

Voters should consider these voting records when heading to the polls next week and in the future. While nationwide policies impact our lives, the issues decided at the state and local levels are typically much more critical.

San Francisco’s state lawmakers seem to vote in a relatively independent fashion. Future political candidates should keep this in mind, since it suggests that San Franciscans want thinkers in the chairs of the Legislature — not inflexible ideologues who will not budge on any issue.

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