Want more news about Virginia politics? Sign up for our weekly political newsletter, West of the Capital.
Who is the best baseball player of all time? That’s a good way to start a feisty barroom debate. Babe Ruth? Lou Gehrig? Joe DiMaggio? Hank Aaron? Josh Gibson? Satchel Paige?
As a lover of statistics, and a desire to quantify things as much as possible, here’s my nominee: John Paciorek.
Even baseball fans might ask: Who?
He was a hotshot minor leaguer who was called up for the final game of the 1963 season for the Houston Colt .45s, as the team was known before it became the Houston Astros. The young right-fielder had quite a day: He came to bat five times, walking twice and stroking three singles. Statistically speaking, he was perfect, with a batting average of 1.000 and an on-base percentage of 1.000.
He also never played another game in the majors. Injuries did him in and while he lingered on in the minors, he never came close to the majors again unless he paid for a ticket. For that one game, though, Paciorek goes into baseball history with a perfect career batting average.
We must keep Paciorek’s example in mind as we consider the validity of the legislative “batting averages” compiled by the Virginia Public Access Project. The numbers are absolutely true, but we must be careful about how we use them, lest we confuse a legislator with a high batting average with a Babe Ruth when they might really be a John Paciorek.
Yesterday I looked at the Democratic primary contest between state Sen. Creigh Deeds and Del. Sally Hudson, both D-Charlottesville, where Deeds has styled himself as “a workhorse” and implied that Hudson is a “showhorse” who introduces a lot of bills but can’t get them passed. I laid out all the caveats in yesterday’s column. Looking simply at what percentage of bills a legislator gets passed isn’t a perfect guide to their legislative dexterity, but it does mean something — voters just have to figure out what, depending on what kind of legislator they want.
Still, the numbers are the numbers: In 2023, Hudson didn’t get any bills passed, Deeds had 26 passed, more than any other legislator in Richmond. Today, let’s look at the other legislators who didn’t get any bills passed.
VPAP says there were 11 delegates and one senator who had zero bills passed this year. One of those 11 delegates was House Speaker Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah County, who also didn’t introduce any bills. That’s one of the beauties of being speaker: You can have other people do the work for you. This isn’t unusual. In 2018, then-House Speaker Kirk Cox didn’t introduce any bills either. In 2019, he introduced just one.
Gilbert doesn’t really belong in this analysis, so that leaves us with 10 delegates and one senator who struck out completely in 2023. Here’s who they are:
Lamont Bagby, D-Richmond
Nadarius Clark, D-Portsmouth
Kelly Convirs-Fowler, D-Virginia Beach
Nick Freitas, R-Culpeper County
Wendy Gooditis, D-Clarke County
Sally Hudson, D-Charlottesville
Dave LaRock, R-Clarke County (previously R-Loudoun County)
Marie March, R-Floyd County
Ken Plum, D-Fairfax County
Suhas Subramanyam, D-Loudoun County
The lone senator: Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield County.
Out of 11 legislators, that’s seven Democrats and four Republicans, so futility is a bipartisan phenomenon. Still, some futility is more remarkable than others.
We presently have divided government in Virginia: a Republican House, a Democratic Senate, a Republican waiting with a pen to either sign or veto a bill. The legislators most likely to get bills passed are those who introduce legislation that can, somewhere along the way, win some support from the other side. (That’s also why some of the favorite bills, by both Democrats and Republicans, haven’t gone anywhere — they might pass one chamber but not the other.) The legislation that gets passed under such circumstances generally tends to be more, shall we say, modest.
That’s what trips up many of the legislators on this zero list. Most of them tend toward one end of the political spectrum or the other, so it’s not surprising that some of them haven’t gotten bills through. Chase, for instance, is considered so far “out there” that she’s been disowned by the Republican caucus in the Senate.
In the case of Deeds vs. Hudson, which I examined yesterday, it’s not surprising, at all, that Hudson’s batting average is zero. She’s a Democrat — and a pretty liberal one — in a Republican-controlled House. As I pointed out, when Democrats controlled the chamber, she got most of her bills through. When Republicans took charge, she had trouble. Other Democrats in the House didn’t have that problem: Dawn Adams, D-Richmond, had 67% of her bills passed. David Bulova, D-Fairfax County, had 64% of his bills passed. Sam Rasoul, D-Roanoke, had 62% of his bills passed. But those were different bills from hers. How you feel about her bills, the ones that passed or the ones that died, is up to you. I’m just explaining the partisan dynamics: A Democrat introducing a bill in a Republican-controlled House begins with a disadvantage. That’s how politics works. Elections really do have consequences.
By that logic, the most interesting thing here isn’t the Democrats who couldn’t get their bills through the House, it’s the Republicans. (Chase sits in a Democratic-controlled Senate so she gets a reprieve here.) So these are the three Republicans on the zero list: Freitas, LaRock and March.
Freitas introduced 16 bills. Of those, seven passed the House and died in the Senate, generally on party-line votes in committee; nine died in the House. It seems safe to assume that if Republicans controlled the Senate, those seven bills of his would have passed there, too. If so, that would have made his batting average 7-for-16, or just under 44%. The overall batting average in the General Assembly this year was 43%. I have a hard time looking at Freitas’ record and concluding he’s ineffective — he just introduces a lot of highly ideological bills that the other party can’t go for. In a legislature that rewards bipartisanship, he might be ineffective. In a legislature controlled by Republicans, he wouldn’t be. In that sense, he and Hudson are much the same, just in different parties. To continue our baseball theme, Freitias isn’t striking out, he’s just making outs — he’s making contact but the balls he hits are being caught by Democratic outfielders. If there were Republican outfielders in the Senate, those balls would likely go through for hits.
LaRock introduced 17 bills. Of those, two passed the House and were killed in Senate committees, while 15 died in the House. Once again, we can probably assume that if the Senate were run by Republicans, LaRock’s two House-passed bills might have passed the Senate, too. Still, he had 15 of 17 bills that he couldn’t even get through a Republican-controlled House. LaRock is currently one of eight (!) candidates seeking the Republican nomination for a Senate seat in the northern Shenandoah Valley. It seems fair for voters to ask whether LaRock will be any more effective in the Senate than he has been in the House, or whether pushing ideological bills that test the limits of his own party is what they want.
Finally, we come to March. She also introduced 17 bills. All 17 died in the House. Upon closer inspection, 16 of her 17 bills didn’t even get out of committee. The only one that did was voted down on the House floor.
If you’re looking for an example of legislative futility, this is it. It seems fair for voters to ask: If March is this ineffective when her own party controls the House, how would she fare if Democrats win back control?
March is now drawn into a June 20 primary battle with Del. Wren Williams, R-Patrick County. His bill passage rate this year was 41%. VPAP says that for legislators with less than four years of service, the average success rate on bills this year was 33%. For a first-term legislator, Williams’ success rate is better than average. Hers is in the cellar. I’m not taking sides here; I’m just pointing out the math.
March took to Facebook during the session to complain that her own party was trying to “humiliate” her. Maybe that’s so — she made no legislative friends by swearing out an assault warrant against Williams, who was later found not guilty after he said he simply bumped into her accidentally at a party event. However, even before then, March had trouble getting bills passed. In 2022, she had only one of her 20 bills passed, a rate of 5%. Even in a Republican-controlled House, most Democrats had a better chance of getting their bills passed. Williams’ first-year rate was 43%. If Republicans controlled the Senate, Williams’ success rate would be even higher. Of his 17 bills this year, seven passed, eight died in the House, while two passed the House but were killed in the Senate. With a Republican Senate, Williams would have likely seen most of his bills passed. A Republican Senate would make no difference for March, because she couldn’t get her bills out of a Republican House.
A Democratic legislator — who also had a 0% pass rate — came to March’s defense. Convirs-Fowler tweeted that March “is a fierce advocate for her community” and that her poor legislative batting average is because of sexism: “The men didn’t give her bills hearings versus passing most of her opponents bills. At least SHE voted FOR her district.”
For what it’s worth, the delegate with the second-highest average is a woman: Del. Carrie Coyner, R-Chesterfield County, who saw 87% of her bills passed. (She finished just behind Del. Terry Austin, R-Botetourt County, at 88%.) In the Senate, the legislator with the best passage rate was also a woman: Janet Howell, D-Fairfax County, who posted a 100% record. Howell does have the advantage of being co-chair of Senate Finance, although Coyner is only in her second term. In my experience following the General Assembly for longer than some of the legislators have been alive, the ability to get bills passed is a complicated mix of party, power, personality — and, of course, the nature of the bills in question.
We shouldn’t let statistics fool us into thinking that John Paciorek was the best hitter of all time. But other times, statistics can be quite clear and clarifying. We’ll find out June 20 whether Republican voters from Henry County to Floyd County care about such things.