Politicians and insiders like to talk about the advantages that come with seniority. Unfortunately, those advantages rarely accrue to the benefit of taxpayers. Yet there are important exceptions to that rule, which should remind voters why we must carefully consider the candidates, not just their longevity or rhetoric.

Taking a look at scores on the 2011 Fiscal Responsibility Index, the longer-serving members on average have worse average ratings than newer members. In Austin-speak, that’s known as “growing in office.” Too bad it’s growing deeper into the taxpayers’ wallets.

Those legislators serving longer than 10 years in the House averaged a 55.6 rating on the 2011 Index, while those serving less than 10 years averaged a 66.2.

Of course, eight years ago there was the historic party change, with the first GOP-controlled Texas House in more than a century being seated in 2003 (growing to a super-majority in 2011). So let’s just look at the averages of the House GOP classes between those two eras: those elected with the Republicans in power, compared to those elected beforehand.

Republicans elected before 2002 have a 78.6 rating on the Index. Meanwhile, those GOP legislators elected in 2002 through 2010 averaged an 84.4 rating.

Again, these are average ratings based on term of service. It’s certainly no guarantee of how individual lawmakers perform.

For example, the longest serving legislator in the House is Tom Craddick (R-Midland), who earned a B+ rating and our “Taxpayer Advocate” award for his 2011 legislative performance. On the other hand, freshmen legislator Dee Margo (R-El Paso) abjectly failed the Index, earning an “F” for voting too often against fiscally conservative principles.

While some might think the 2011 freshman class – those elected in the historic anti-Obama wave of 2010 – would be the most fiscally conservative in the legislature. They aren’t. That distinction falls to the remaining GOP members of the 1997 freshmen, who average a 92.9 rating. They include high-rating legislators like Dan Flynn, Wayne Christian and Dennis Bonnen.

Following them is the 2003 freshmen class – those members elected in 2002. They averaged an 87 rating. As Andrew Kerr noted yesterday, the Republican freshmen of 2011 earned an 84.2 average rating.

Just as there is, actually, a representational difference between the parties – their principles and governing values – there are marked differences between legislators of the same party which cannot be explained away by region, district type or even length of service.

No matter how long a legislator has served, or how right-sounding a challenger may seem, it’s critical that voters arm themselves with the facts about the issues facing Texas and grill them. After all, they work for us.

NOTE: This was updated from the original. A legislator was noted as being part of the 1997 class who actually first served in 2003. The averages of the respective classes were also updated. Thanks to Evan at Rick Perry vs The World for catching the error!

Michael Quinn Sullivan

Michael Quinn Sullivan is the publisher of Texas Scorecard. He is a native Texan, a graduate of Texas A&M, and Eagle Scout. Previously, he has worked as a newspaper reporter, magazine contributor, Capitol Hill staffer, think tank vice president. Michael and his wife have three adult children, and a dog. Check out his podcast, Reflections on Life and Liberty.

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