Republicans are red. Democrats are blue. At the extreme of each color, who shows the brightest hue?

In the Utah Legislature, Sen. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem, is the reddest red. And Rep. Phil Riesen, D-Salt Lake, is the bluest blue.

That's according to report cards issued by special-interest groups this year, as combined and analyzed by the Deseret News to identify the most conservative conservatives and the most liberal liberals.

Dayton said being ranked as the most conservative legislator may cause "some of my legislative colleagues to be envious. I guess in politics you can't hide from who you are," even though she did not run for office to stand out that way.

Riesen, a former TV newsman, said, "I'm proud to be the most Democratic member of the Utah House." His upscale Millcreek/Holladay district is progressive, "and I vote like my constituents want."

While conservative and liberal groups usually agree on little, they do roughly concur about where individual legislators fall along the political spectrum.

The Deseret News discovered that by studying report cards from four special interest groups that rated Utah legislators for votes cast in the 2008 Legislature (the only such report cards the newspaper could find). The groups give better scores to lawmakers who vote with them most often on what the groups consider to be key votes.

Two were conservative groups that gave the lion's share of their better scores to Republicans: GrassRoots (a constitutional watchdog group) and the Utah Taxpayers Association, a business-funded low-tax group. Two were liberal-leaning groups that give most of their best scores to Democrats: the Utah Education Association (a teachers union) and the environmentalist Sierra Club.

The Deseret News standardized and averaged the groups' ratings, so that the higher scores on a scale from 0 to 100 would show who is a deeper red Republican, and the lower scores on the scale would show who is a bluer Democrat.

On the deepest crimson red portion of the spectrum was Dayton with a score of 84.7, followed by Sen. Mark Madsen, R-Lehi, 83; Rep. Carl Wimmer, R-Herriman, 82.8; Rep. Michael Morley, R-Spanish Fork, 82; and Rep. Aaron Tilton (defeated in convention), R-Springville, 80.7. (A chart showing how each legislator is rated can be found at the graphic link above right, labeled "Reddest red, bluest blue.")

Among the most royal blue was Riesen with a score of 15.18. He edged out by the narrowest of margins Reps. David Litvack, D-Salt Lake, and Carol Moss, D-Holladay, who both had scores of 15.23. Retiring Rep. Roz McGee, D-Salt Lake, scored 15.43 and Rep. Janice Fisher, D-West Valley, scored 16.43.

Wimmer said, "I didn't expect to be the most conservative in the House." The former police officer added, "I believe I do represent my constituents, who are by nature conservative, family-values folks."

Interestingly, most-conservative-in-the-House Wimmer is running against Dave Hogue, a former Republican turned Democrat who in 2006 was the second-most moderate House Republican, the newspaper's analysis found then.

Overall, the average combined scores from all four special-interest groups for the entire Legislature was 47.6 — which, in their view, would put the legislature just a bit to the left, liberal side of middle (bear in mind what those groups view as the middle could differ from what other Utahns believe).

Overall, the average score for all Republicans was 56 — to the right of middle, but maybe not as far right as many Utahns might guess (but again the ratings are done by special-interest groups that may have more extreme beliefs than most Utahns).

The average score for Democrats was 24.2 — three-quarters of the way to the left.

Interestingly, two years ago — the last time the Deseret News created a similar index — a sharp line divided the two parties, with no Democrats scoring to the right of any Republicans and no Republicans scoring to the left of any Democrats.

This time, however, a much more mixed middle ground was found, without a sharp line dividing the two parties. Thirteen members found themselves in that somewhat mixed-up middle ground.

For example, Rep. Kory Holdaway, R-Taylorsville, scored a 31.9 for the "bluest" score among the red Republicans. It was far enough to the left that four Democrats managed to have "redder" scores than did Holdaway.

Similarly, Rep. Neil Hendrickson, D-West Valley, scored a 40.6 for the "reddest" score among the blue Democrats. It was far enough to the right that nine Republicans managed to have "bluer" scores than Hendrickson.

Holdaway, said he prides himself on being an independent lawmaker. "I represent my area more than I do any political party," said Holdaway, a special education teacher. "I think sometimes I'm looked upon with a jaundiced eye by some groups because of my politics. I don't march to the same drum as every one else."

Hendrickson said he is probably more conservative today than he was 18 years ago when he was first elected from his West Valley district. "That's partly because the makeup of my district has changed," he said. His willingness to work with the majority Republicans in the House serves both his constituents and party well, he says. Democratic House leaders picked Hendrickson to serve on the powerful Rules Committee to try to get Democratic bills out for hearings and floor debate.

Sen. Brent Goodfellow, D-West Valley, is the most conservative of the Democrats in the Senate. Considering there are only eight Democratic senators, Goodfellow joked: "Being the most conservative Democrat is like being the tallest building in Delta, Utah."

Some interest groups approve of the Legislature, or groups of its members, more than others.

For example, the Utah Education Association gave every single Democrat in the Legislature a "perfect" score. Its report card also said the overall Legislature voted the way it preferred on 65 percent of key votes.

The Sierra Club gave "perfect" scores to 14 legislators (13 Democrats plus Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan). It also gave one worst-possible score to Rep. Bud Bowman, R-Cedar City, who was defeated in convention. It said the Legislature voted the way it preferred on 67 percent of key votes.

The Utah Taxpayers Association gave two "perfect" scores: to Sens. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper — who is also president of that group — and Madsen. It said the Legislature voted the way it preferred on 75 percent of key votes.

GrassRoots gave no "perfect" or "worst possible" scores. It said the Legislature voted the way GrassRoots preferred on 47 percent of key votes.


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bbjr @desnews.com