Category Archives: Current Politics

The New New York State Assembly Speaker is Pretty Unusual

Sheldon Silver, New York State’s iconic Assembly Speaker, was forced to resign after being charged with serious federal corruption charges. Bronx Democrat Carl Heastie is going to ascend to the position sometime on Tuesday, after his last competitor, Queens Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan, dropped out of the race to succeed Silver.

I tweeted on Saturday that I was surprised by this turn of events. This was after another competitor, Democratic Assembly Majority Leader Joseph Morelle (apparently the favored candidate of Governor Cuomo), had dropped out of the race.

I was surprised because Carl Heastie is fairly extreme ideologically. Yet almost all the attention in the discussion about the speaker’s succession has been about race, potential ethical issues, and a real or imagined power play between Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio.

Our state legislative ideology data set provides me with the data for this post. The current release of the data has data into 2013, but we are currently working on extending that data set into 2015. I don’t have the newest members serving in 2015, but they are relatively few as the chamber isn’t very competitive. So I’m just using the scores and composition of the chamber as of 2014.

Sheldon Silver is in the most liberal fifth of his party in the Assembly. Nolan has basically the same ideological profile as Silver. In contrast, Morelle is a little to the right of the median Democrat. Carl Heastie, on the other hand, is the fifth most liberal Democrat (only Weinstein, Rosenthal, Glick, and Robinson to his left) in the Assembly, out of a total of 106. And it’s not like Silver, Nolan, or even Morelle are hardline conservatives. The New York State Democratic party is amongst the most liberal in the country, alongside California and Vermont’s Democrats.

This is a puzzle because I’d expect New York Democrats to pick someone closer to their ideological center. This should be due, crudely speaking, to the median voter theorem. A simple majority-rule election should have the property of privileging centrist candidates. Just look at the 113th Congress US House leadership team of John Boehner, Eric Cantor and Kevin McCarty, who were just about at the center of their party in the House.

A recent paper by Stephen Jessee and Neil Malhotra shows empirical evidence for this notion: party leaders in Congress tend to be not very far from the center, especially in comparison to their competitors for the offices (Democrats do shade somewhat to the left and Republicans to the right of their party medians). In this case, however, the winning candidate is especially far relative to not only the party as a whole, but in comparison to his announced competitors.

What’s going on here? Are states that different from Congress? Or is something peculiar about New York in particular? I’m not sure, but events like this get me thinking about new research projects …


Sizing Up Christie’s Appointment Choices in New Jersey: State Legislature

Five-term Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) passed away today. Under my former home state New Jersey law, the special election to fill the empty seat will happen in November 2013, which is the regularly scheduled general election for governor and the state legislature. Until then, Governor Chris Christie (R) gets to appoint a replacement.

Naturally, given the tight division of seats between the parties in Congress, and many important battles left to fight until November, speculation has already begun about Christie’s choice. Some names that have been mentioned include three sitting state legislators: Tom Kean, Joe Kyrillos, and Jon Bramnick.

Yet that speculation misses a key variable: the likely voting behavior of Christie’s choice upon entering the Senate. My research with Nolan McCarty can help inform the discussion because it directly measures the ideology of the most likely candidates for the position.

In this post, I’ll discuss the three state legislative candidates that have been mentioned as likely replacements for Lautenberg, and their ideological position, relative to New Jersey Republicans from 1996 to 2008 and the US Congress from the 109th through the 112th Congresses. I will use both legislative voting behavior and candidate responses of all state legislators and members of Congress to generate a single number for each candidate on a left-right ideology scale.

The current state legislative candidates are as follows:

  • State Senator Thomas “Tom” Kean, Jr. His score is 0.041, which is slightly on the right of the state party (65th percentile). 
  • State Senator Joseph “Joe” M. Kyrillos. His score is 0.014, which is a tick to the right of the median of the state party (55th percentile).
  • State Assembly Republican Leader Jon Bramnick. His score is -0.028, which is actually somewhat to the left (40th percentile) of the state party.

Thus, all three are moderate Republicans — in New Jersey, whose party is relatively liberal, compared with state legislators across the country (do note that there is a small amount of error underlying the estimates, so I wouldn’t make too much–for example–about the distinction between Kean and Kyrillos). Here is a graphical representation of where New Jersey Republicans lie in comparative terms (outlined in green near the bottom of the chart). The states are ordered from overall most conservative at the top (Idaho) to most liberal at the bottom (California). The red boxes represent Republicans, and the blue ones Democrats. Medians, or centers of the parties looking across time, are denoted by black marks within the boxes.


But what about in comparison to the US Senate? How conservative or moderate are the three likely to be when they arrive there shortly? My research allows me to simultaneously measure the ideology of sitting and former members of Congress along with more than 18,000 sitting and former state legislators. Thus, I project that Kean, Kyrillos, and Bramnick are approximately comparable to moderate Maine Republican Senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, and former Massachusetts Republican Senator Scott Brown.

The data underlying this post is free and open to the scholarly community and the public. The technical article that explains the approach we used for generating these scores is here.

In another post I’ll discuss New Jersey Republicans who’ve served as members of Congress.

ps The key assumption for this measurement project is that legislators are, on average, consistent in their voting behavior and survey responses, no matter which position they hold. Basically, and roughly speaking, legislators typically don’t change their positions on the whole throughout their political careers. This was the basis of my then-controversial post about Scott Brown’s moderation based on his roll call votes in the Massachusetts State Senate. Luckily, I turned out to be right on that one. More generally, there is much political science evidence on this score.