As a response to the AJC piece (posted by Catherine), about Georgia Legislators with the worst attendance records, Rep. Stephanie Stuckey Benfield sent this to her constituents today:
If you woke up Monday, March 10, morning and saw the front page of the local newspaper (as I did), with my photo among ten state representatives who were described as missing the most votes in the Georgia House of Representatives, you would have been treated to about half of the real story.
If you don’t mind, I’d like to fill you in on the details that the newspaper story failed to mention.
Vote Tally Misleading.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s method of tallying voters is misleading because it failed to count the actual number of total votes missed, choosing instead to count only “unexcused absences.” Given that excused absences are automatically given upon the request of a legislator without any explanation, there is no meaningful distinction between excused and non-excused absences. The reality is that I missed a couple of mornings at the Legislature this session to take my children to the doctor during the cold and flu season. I made the technical mistake of not calling in for an excused absence. Had I done so, I would not have been included in the AJC’s ranking.
Vote Tally Reality.
It is also not particularly meaningful to have a quantitative voting ranking without a qualitative examination of what was actually being voted on. Of my 53 missed votes, almost 70% (36) of the measures passed unanimously, including twelve local calendar votes, two motions to adjourn and two privileged resolutions honoring special Georgians. Of the remaining 17 votes, 15 of these (almost 30% of the total) received less than 20 “nay” votes (out of 180 members of the House) and were essentially non-controversial. That leaves only two votes that could even colorably be called ‘significant contested’ issues. One vote was an amendment to a bill allowing online DUI courses. I voted against the bill itself due to public safety concerns, but I did miss voting on a prior technical amendment to the bill. The other vote — House Bill 1281, prevents local government from enacting water conservation measures in times of drought that are more restrictive than state regulations. Although my “nay” vote would have only raised the tally to 39 votes against, I would have opposed the measure since I think our local governments are better able to evaluate their water resources and needs than the state.
The truth is that I voted on all major legislation this session. My “yea” votes helped to eliminate the car tag tax in Georgia, to facilitate the creation of reservoirs to address our drought situation, and to establish a mental health ombudsman. I helped to defeat a billboard industry bill and advocated against allowing guns in churches. I’ve spoken in the well on numerous occasions this session, including arguing against insurance plans that don’t provide coverage for childhood immunizations and pediatric well visits, advocating for increased funding for our indigent defense system, and engaging in a lengthy debate on protecting due process measures in car seizure cases.
The reality of the legislative process is that much of the hard work we do is accomplished off the House floor. I worked diligently this session to pass eyewitness identification reform, but was defeated due to my opposition to the Speaker’s tax plan. I’ve also dedicated my time to expanding funding for child care and pre-K programs. These and other issues have pulled me off the House floor throughout the session and occasionally cause me to miss a vote.
I am also frequently called away to meet with constituent groups. I’ve noted almost a dozen votes I missed this session due to a lengthy DeKalb delegation meeting, talking to school groups from my district on three different occasions, and leaving the Capitol to present a check for a grant I obtained for a neighborhood initiative in my district. It’s a tough call whether to risk missing certain non-controversial votes in order to attend to the needs of constituents or my district, but I’ve always opted in favor of meeting with constituents whenever possible.
Lastly, I’d like to comment briefly on being a mother in the Legislature. Given the demands of the job, it’s no surprise that I am only one of two mothers with little children in the Legislature and that both of us were named in the top ten missing list. Anyone who’s had to care for young children understands that emergencies sometimes arise that require your immediate attention. It’s not easy juggling motherhood and public service, but it’s a challenge I willingly accept because I think it’s important to have the voice of working moms represented in the Legislature.
Allow me to conclude by stating that I am deeply grateful for the honor of representing the constituents of the 85th House District. Taking hits from the media is part of the job of being in elected office. But what really matters to me are the views of my constituents. I make every effort to be open and accessible and encourage you to please contact me about this issue or any other of importance to you. I answer all emails personally at Stuckey@mindspring.com and can be reached almost any time at home (404-377-7014) or on my cell phone (404-964-7025). Thank you for the privilege of serving you.
If you want to further examine my legislation, please click onto the following link. Benfield Legislation here.