Looking into the Senate Chamber of the Maine State Legislature, March 2015In the Maine State Legislature, most bills are introduced with a primary sponsor — a legislator who is responsible for the idea behind a bill. On the other hand, cosponsors (usually up to ten in number but occasionally more) do not introduce a bill but sign their names to the bill as an indication of their strong support.  Sponsorship of bills is one of the primary activities of a state legislature, but not all legislators are equally active in this regard.

In the early months of the new 127th Maine state legislature, these are the ten most active sponsors of bills (not counting symbolic sentiments or resolutions):

1. Senator Tom Saviello (R-Franklin County): 164 sponsorships (47 as primary sponsor)
2. Senator David Burns (R-Washington County): 153 sponsorships (28 as primary sponsor)
3. Senator Paul Davis (R-Piscataquis County): 140 sponsorships (25 as primary sponsor)
4. Senator Roger Katz (R-Kennebec County): 129 sponsorships (23 as primary sponsor)
5. Senator Nathan Libby (D-Androscoggin County): 124 sponsorships (22 as primary sponsor)
6. Senator Andre Cushing (R-Penobscot County): 112 sponsorships (28 as primary sponsor)
7. Senator Eric Brakey (R-Androscoggin County): 108 sponsorships (27 as primary sponsor)
8. Representative Joyce Maker (R-Calais): 108 sponsorships (9 as primary sponsor)
9. Senator John Patrick (D-Oxford County): 106 sponsorships (12 as primary sponsor)
10. Senator Brian Langley (R-Hancock County): 101 sponsorships (12 as primary sponsor)

In contrast, these are the ten least active sponsors of bills to date:

1. Representative Pinny Beebe-Center (D-Rockland): 7 sponsorships (0 as primary sponsor)
2. Representative Gary Sukeforth (I-Appleton): 7 sponsorships (3 as primary sponsor)
3. Representative Lloyd Herrick (R-Paris): 12 sponsorships (0 as primary sponsor)
4. Representative Wayne Mitchell (non-voting member, Penobscot Nation): 12 sponsorships (5 as primary sponsor)
5. Representative Gay Grant (D-Gardiner): 15 sponsorships (0 as primary sponsor)
6. Representative Christopher Babbidge (D-Kennebunk): 15 sponsorships (2 as primary sponsor)
7. Representative Stedman Seavey (R-Kennebunkport): 15 sponsorships (2 as primary sponsor)
8. Representative Martin Grohman (D-Biddeford): 16 sponsorships (0 as primary sponsor)
9. Representative Stephanie Hawke (R-Boothbay Harbor): 16 sponsorships (1 as primary sponsor)
10. Representative Tim Theriault (R-China): 17 sponsorships (5 as primary sponsor)

The average number of sponsorships across all 189 members of the Maine state legislature, in case you’re curious, is 47.7.

Taken together, the ten most active legislators have contributed 1,245 bill sponsorships, and among them introduced 233 bills. To reiterate, this total does not count symbolic sentiments and resolutions — these are legislative documents that would change Maine law. On the other hand, the ten least active legislators have to date contributed just 132 bill sponsorships and introduced 18 bills. No legislator has been entirely inactive on this front, and some legislators may have good reasons for their inactivity (the most clear among these being Rep. Beebe-Center, who won a special election and was not sworn in until March 17, long after the early period in a legislative session during which most bills are submitted). Still, the contrast is striking.

Two differences between the most active and least active legislators are immediately apparent. Every one of the ten least active Maine legislators are members of the Maine House, while all but one of the ten most active legislators are members of the Maine Senate. Only four of the ten least active Maine legislators are Republicans, while eight of the ten most active legislators are Republicans. A more subtle difference (which you can verify by checking these legislators’ Open Maine profiles) involves social media activity. Of the ten least active legislators in sponsorship, only one (Rep. Grohman, as @mgrohman) has an active Twitter account…

Tweet of Rep. Martin Grohman on March 18, 2015 posted from the Maine Tourism Show

… while in contrast six of the ten most active legislators in sponsorship maintain active Twitter accounts.

Do these patterns hold across the Maine state legislature overall? The following scatterplots tell the tale graphically:

Average Number of Bill Sponsorships, by Chamber of the Maine State Legislature, as of April 18 2015

A substantive, statistically significant effect (p<.05) of chamber on bill sponsorship activity is clearly visible; on average, Maine Senators are sponsors or cosponsors of 41.5 more bills than Maine Representatives.  Part of this effect is due to the tendency of bills to feature cosponsorship from both chambers of the legislature (since there are fewer Senators to share Senate representation in cosponsorship, Senators cosponsor more bills), but members of the Senate also tend to introduce more bills as the primary sponsor.

Plot of Bill Sponsorship by Twitter Activity in the Maine Legislature as of 4-18-15

A much smaller but statistically significant (p<.05) difference in bill sponsorship can be seen according to social media activity: active Twitter users in the legislature do sponsor more bills.  This difference would be accentuated if we bent the definition of “active Twitter user” a bit; Senator Tom Saviello, the most active bill sponsor in the 127th Maine State Legislature to date, started up different Twitter accounts in 2011 and in 2012.  These accounts are not active, however; he has not posted to them for more than a year.

Number of Bill Sponsorships by Party in the Maine State Legislature, as of April 18 2015

On the other hand, there is no statistically significant difference overall in the average number of sponsorships by Democrats and by Republicans.  A few Democrats and Independents have especially low levels of sponsorship, and a few Republicans have especially high levels of sponsorship, but the bulk of Republicans and Democrats hold comparable levels of bill sponsorship.  In other words, the outliers identified in the Top 10 and Bottom 10 lists at the top of this post are not reflective of their parties in general.

 

Share this page…Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on LinkedInShare on TumblrDigg thisShare on RedditEmail this to someonePrint this page

Every week, members of the Maine State Legislature engage in talk with constituents, with members of the media, and with one another.  As social media use has expanded, a fair amount of that talk is now recorded for anyone with an Internet connection to see.  Twitter has become an especially interesting social media platform for three reasons:

  1. Every post is public by default.
  2. The 140-character limit forces users to get right to the point.
  3. With a simple use of the @ character, Twitter users can speak directly to one another.

There are 57 members of the 127th Maine State Legislature who have signed up for a Twitter account and posted with it at least once in the last year.  Which legislators have been active on Twitter in the last week?  To whom have they been speaking?  And what have they been talking about?

Twitter activity of Maine State Legislators in the Week of April 5-11 2015, represented in a social network graph

The image you see above displays patterns in the communications of the 26 Maine state legislators active on Twitter last week, April 5-11.  Each legislator is indicated in either blue (for Democrats) or red (for Republicans), and the size of a legislator’s circular marker indicates how many Twitter posts (“tweets”) a legislator made in the past week.  The high mark for communication volume last week goes to Rep. Diane Russell of Portland, who tweets as “misswrite” and made 54 posts to Twitter in seven days.   Rep. Drew Gattine of Westbrook is a somewhat distant second, with 34 posts in the last week.  Three of the legislators you see depicted above — Republican Ken Fredette of Newport and Democrats Justin Alfond and Mark Eves — posted no tweets themselves this week but are included in the network graph because Reps. Russell and Gattine tweeted to them.  A total of 232 tweets were contributed by the 23 tweeting legislators (up from 176 the week before), and only five of them involved conversations with fellow Maine legislators. 7 legislators, both Republicans and Democrats, posted to Twitter in ways that didn’t mention anybody else. In social network parlance, these are isolates, and they are unconnected to anyone else in the network above.

As you can see, there are a number of Twitter users outside the legislature who are included in the network; legislators actually devote most of their Twitter activity to communication directed outside the legislature.  I’ve labeled those Twitter accounts who were on the receiving end of Maine legislative tweets last week, and with one exception these network “outsiders” are actually insiders, politically active individuals or organizations that help broker power in Maine state government.  These include Twitter accounts for state news outlets, for the Maine Democratic Party and Maine Republican Party, for the Twitter account of Maine Governor Paul LePage, and for accounts of communications directors for the parties or party-related groups:

  • Matthew Gagnon, CEO of the Maine Heritage Policy Center
  • Rachel Irwin, Communications Director for the Maine Democratic Party
  • Jodi Quintero, Communications Director for House Speaker Mark Eves
  • Rob Poindexter, Communications Director for the Maine House Republicans

David Murchison, the other individual mentioned by more than one legislator last week, posted an image of a crucifix to mark the Christian holiday of Easter, an image that Senator Amy Volk and Rep. John Picchiotti retweeted.

Easter was tied as one of the most popular subjects of legislator Tweets last week, mentioned in 8 Twitter posts.  Also tied for #1 was the subject of taxes.  The top five subjects of Maine legislators’ tweets last week were:

Easter: 8 tweets

Taxes: 8 tweets

Barack Obama: 5 tweets

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev: 5 tweets

Welfare: 3 tweets

How is it that in 232 Twitter posts the most common subjects only appear 3-8 times?  The answer is that the subjects of tweets by legislators in Maine are incredibly diverse, from Rep. John Picchiotti’s call for Mainers to help a Waterville family via a “dime drive”…

… to Rep. Ryan Fecteau’s applause for Barack Obama’s stance on gay conversion therapy…

… to Sen. Amy Volk’s reaction to an early spring weather report…

If roll call votes represent the tightest moment in legislative politics, when members of the Maine House and Senate are expected to choose sides and march in lock step regarding an agreed-upon agenda, social media talk might represent the loosest moment, when Maine’s representatives get to decide what they’d like to talk about, what they’d like to say, and how they’d like to say it.


Update, 4/14/15: If raw counts of phrases used by legislators in the text of their tweets last week reveals a long list of subjects, is it possible that a list of subjects of those tweets might be more concentrated? Well, yes and no. To assess this, let’s look at the use of hashtags (#), the way that users self-organize Twitter into a bunch of ever-shifting subjects. Here are the hashtags used more than once in tweets posted by Maine state legislators in the second week of April:

#mepolitics 49 uses
#betterdeal4maine 10 uses
#letmatthewteach 3 uses
#fitn 3 uses
#maine 3 uses
#mepoiltics 3 uses
#morningreport 3 uses
#nhpolitics 3 uses
#springinmaine 3 uses
#easter2015 2 uses
#endconversiontherapy 2 uses
#happyeaster 2 uses
#medicalmarijuana 2 uses
#sunspots 2 uses

#mepolitics is, hands down, the most popular hashtag used by legislators last week, and that’s no surprise, since it is also the most popular hashtag for the curation of posts on Twitter about Maine politicos and Maine policy.  #betterdeal4maine refers to legislative Democrats’ introduction of an alternative to Governor Paul LePage’s tax plan.  Some of the other more inscrutable hashtags include #fitn (First In The Nation — a reference to an upcoming GOP conference in New Hampshire) and #letmatthewteach, an activist hashtag supporting Matt Eledge, a Catholic school teacher who was recently fired for being gay.  But although there is greater consensus at least for the top two hashtags, there is also a “long tail,” to use the vocabulary of statisticians.  Another 28 hashtags were used just once by legislators last week, another indication of a true diversity in topics of discussion.

Share this page…Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on LinkedInShare on TumblrDigg thisShare on RedditEmail this to someonePrint this page