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:

Dear Constituents:

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.

 

16 Responses to Democrats top the list followup

  1. Mouth of the South says:

    Agreed, then maybe we could have some conflict of interest and other ethical rules put in, instead of people like Casey Cagle falling back on the part-time legislator argument (when confronted with banking regulations he pushed that were in his own interest).

  2. Tim says:

    we’d be better off if we treated it like a SERIOUS job and not some part-time fast-food seasonal work.

    And yes, i’m advocating paying them more, requiring them to work THIS job full-time. If they want to do another job, that OTHER job should be a “2nd” job. This is more important to me.

  3. Mouth of the South says:

    We’d be better off if they were all lawyers.

  4. jac1975 says:

    I think Tim’s point is that we have a full time legislature whether anyone wants to admit or not. It’s impossible for someone who is not a lawyer, self-employed, or independently wealthy to even CONSIDER running for state legislator. How many bosses do you know who would be OK with you missing 3-4 months out of the year? Let alone the not-in-session responsibilities they have.

    I don’t particularly want a full time legislature either, but I would like to see some normal, middle class and even POOR folks be able to serve in the legislature.

  5. innerredneckexposed says:

    the question then becomes do they deserve the pay raise? do we think the GOP needs to be commended for the **** they do to the state. No.

  6. Jen B. says:

    Tim,

    Are you suggesting paying them 40k a year for working 4 months?

  7. innerredneckexposed says:

    Tim: I work more than the hours I am assigned and I am sure you and others do the same. You still only get paid what you are assigned to do.

  8. Tim says:

    would be true if they only worked 40 actual days, but anyone who’s interned at the state capitol or is the spouse of an elected under the dome will tell you the 40 days thing is crap.

    We’re getting what we pay for. We want more diversity in our electeds? Make the wage livable.

    i don’t want the people making decisions like they do relying on ANOTHER job. I want them 100% focused on the job we elected them to do.

  9. Tim says:

    would be true if they only worked 40 actual days, but anyone who’s interned at the state capitol or is the spouse of an elected under the dome will tell you the 40 days thing is crap.

    We’re getting what we pay for. We want more diversity in our electeds? Make the wage livable.

    i don’t want the people making decisions like they do relying on ANOTHER job. I want them 100% focused on the job we elected them to do.

  10. innerredneckexposed says:

    tim: we pay for 40 days a year, that is fine with me i don’t want those clowns screwing up our state anymore. If they work 40days, they don’t get living wages. Sorry.

    No offense to any legislator reading the comments, if you want to go full time so be it but right now, I don’t think they should get paid a living wage for what amounts to less than two months of formal work.

    The racism might be true but the reason the GA doesn’t have full time staff members is because its not a full time job. To be honest, I so no real need yet for a full time body. In a few years our pop will probably be big enough to warrant it but not now. They do just enough damage.

  11. innerredneckexposed says:

    tim: we pay for 40 days a year, that is fine with me i don’t want those clowns screwing up our state anymore. If they work 40days, they don’t get living wages. Sorry.

    No offense to any legislator reading the comments, if you want to go full time so be it but right now, I don’t think they should get paid a living wage for what amounts to less than two months of formal work.

    The racism might be true but the reason the GA doesn’t have full time staff members is because its not a full time job. To be honest, I so no real need yet for a full time body. In a few years our pop will probably be big enough to warrant it but not now. They do just enough damage.

  12. Tim says:

    oh Hex it goes WAY beyond that.

    you could ask that why after 130 years, the state legislature still denies paid staff and full salary to elected state reps and senators.

    This is a leftover from Reconstruction problem where the state legislature didn’t want poor people (read rural small-farm farmers and African-Americans) actually getting elected to the state legislature.

    So they deny them any living wage, no paid staffers to do things like oh, research and organizing an office.

    It’s the most racist, classist thing staring our state right in the face and no one bothers to talk about it.

    Heaven forbid we actually pay these folks a living wage.

    You get what you pay for people.

  13. Hexagonal says:

    Count me in as one Stephanie Stuckey Benfield constituent who understands her exemplary voting record.

    As someone who has worked as a staffer in a legislative body, her letter sounds good to me. No worries.

    The real story is why the State Legislature gets a free ride from the press concerning its seeming inability to organize its time so that more votes matter.

  14. Tim says:

    love me some Stephanie,

    boo to Ron

  15. Mouth of the South says:

    Ron Sailor immediately began distributing a free pamphlet, explaining that the votes are not an important part of legislating, more important was that he was out with the people (not necessarily people in his district, and by that I mean the one he “represents”, not the one he actually lives in) rather than sitting around with 179 people whose opinions he already knows.

  16. CatherineAtlanta says:

    I really appreciate Representative Benfield filling us in. She is one of a handful of “electeds” who I can count on to advocate for the issues that mean the most to me.

    I must say, however, that all of the examples she uses sound like “excusable” absences. While I certainly understand the pressures and demands on a busy working mom, it does seem like a phone call explaining an absence is not too much to expect. I’m sure most of the working people who live in her district are expected to do just that when they will be absent from their jobs.