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March 16, 2011: News, Research & Events from the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy
Baker Institute Update: How to keep tabs on your state legislator
How to keep tabs on your state representative

Does your state legislator represent your interests? Find out by following the Baker Institute Blog posts of Mark Jones, fellow in political science, who is tracking every floor vote in the Texas House of Representatives during the regular 2011 session. Jones' goal is to determine where each state representative falls on a conservative-to-liberal political spectrum.

"This isn't designed to pigeonhole people into categories, but to provide voters with information while they still have time to react, for instance, by calling or writing their legislators in Austin," said Jones, who this week blogged on the first 60 days of voting. "These indices are often provided after the fact, so voters have no idea what their representative is doing until the session is over."

Unsurprisingly, Jones' preliminary data showed that floor voting in the Texas House has been highly partisan. The most conservative Democrat was significantly more liberal than the most liberal Republican, with the exception of Republican Sarah Davis of West University Place in Houston. The data also showed who is at the conservative and liberal extremes among Republicans and Democrats, and who is in the middle.

Jones, who is also the Joseph D. Jamail Chair in Latin American Studies at Rice University, employed an estimation procedure developed by a Stanford University professor to analyze 50 roll call votes that were at least minimally contested in the first two months of the session. A legislator's location on the liberal-conservative continuum was heavily influenced by his or her position on HB 15 -- a bill that required a sonogram before an abortion and had numerous amendments that called for a vote. Still to come are votes on the state budget and immigration-related legislation. "It is quite possible that some representatives will not find themselves in a similar location once votes on other issues are taken into account," said Jones, who will continue to track voting until legislators recess on May 30.

Even so, he added, "these data are very predictive of future voting. There was a strong correlation between a person's voting record in the past legislative session and that in the first 60 days of the session. What we've seen so far represents the ideological gulf that continues to widen as conservative Democrats and liberal Republicans gradually become extinct in Texas."

A full report of Jones' 2011 study will be posted on the Baker Institute website this summer.

Tragedy in Japan: A message from our founding director

The James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy extends its deepest condolences over the loss of life and our sympathies to the people of Japan over the tragedy caused by the devastating earthquake and tsunami.

"We are profoundly saddened by this terrible disaster," said Baker Institute founding director Edward P. Djerejian. "From the very beginning of the establishment of the Baker Institute, we have worked closely with individuals and institutions in Japan on public policy issues of mutual interest. The institute is committed to lending our voice to support the relief and recovery efforts now and in the weeks and months ahead."

For the latest information on the disaster and the situation in Japan, as well as ways to help, visit the U.S. State Department website.

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The James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy is a nonpartisan public policy think tank located on the campus of Rice University in Houston, Texas. The institute's distinguished fellows and scholars research and collaborate with experts from academia, government, the media, business and private organizations on domestic and foreign policy issues with the goal of bridging the gap between the theory and practice of public policy.
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