U.S. Reps. Harry Mitchell and Gabrielle Giffords qualify as key players in "The New Center," a movement toward centrist politics, according to Saturday's edition of National Journal magazine.The Arizona lawmakers are pictured along with seven other first-term Democrats on the magazine cover with the headline "Center Stage."
"The freshmen Democratic 'majority makers' are overwhelmingly moderate," according to National Journal reporters Richard E. Cohen and Brian Friel.
The magazine has ranked members of Congress every year since 1981. The 2007 rankings were based on 107 votes related to economic, social and foreign policy issues.
According to the National Journal, Mitchell earned a 54 percent liberal rating, which put him in 202nd place among all House members on the liberal scale; and a 46 percent conservative rating, which placed him in 228th place on the conservative scale.
Giffords came in slightly more liberal than Mitchell. She was 56.8 percent and 192nd on the liberal side; and 43.2 percent and 238th on the conservative side.
Mitchell told the Tribune that the rankings seem fair and he's comfortable with the notion that he's part of The New Center.
"It shows that - and I really believe this, too - the Democrat first-termers really are the middle of the road, the center. And most of them came from Republican districts, like myself," he said.
National Journal slotted Mitchell 13 spots left of center among 429 House members. The magazine didn't rank the remaining House members because of missed votes.
Based on the magazine's twin 100-point scales that measure the political ideological spectrum, Mitchell finished his first year 39 points more liberal than his predecessor, ousted Republican J.D. Hayworth, who received an 85 percent conservative rating the previous year.
Similarly, fellow freshman Arizona Democrat Gabrielle Giffords came in 22.5 points more liberal than her predecessor, retired Republican Jim Kolbe, who garnered a 65.7 percent conservative rating the previous year.
The House's center is filled disproportionately with freshmen Democrats, according to the magazine.
THE WILL OF THE DISTRICT
Mitchell never exactly sought out the political center; it just worked out that way, he told the Tribune.
"I thought I represented my district," he said. "I voted with my district, and that's where it put me."
For example, Mitchell was one of six freshman Democrats to break with party leadership and oppose the Democratic budget resolution. Mitchell couldn't support it because, in part, it failed to address an increase in government spending.
He also co-sponsored a bill with Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., to extend President Bush's cuts on capital gains taxes and estate taxes.
While the magazine suggests the "majority makers" have a fair amount of clout within the House in general and the Democratic Party in particular, Mitchell said it doesn't always feel that way.
He's familiar with most of the so-called majority makers, but they certainly don't act as a coalition by planning strategy together or deliberately voting together.
Also, there's inherent political risk associated with centrist politics, he said.
"You get hit from people coming from the right and the left, if you're middle of the road. It's like walking the double-yellow line, isn't it?"
ARPAIO FOR McCAIN
Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who previously endorsed former GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney for president, said he now backs fellow Arizonan John McCain for the nation's top job.
"My point is, he's the nominee," Arpaio said. "I'm going to support him."
Arpaio didn't merely endorse the former governor of Massachusetts, he traveled around the country during the early primary season speaking in support of Romney's approach to handling illegal immigration.
Arpaio said he would give McCain his official endorsement if McCain or his people asked, but to date, they haven't asked.
The only condition to formally endorsing McCain, Arpaio said, is that he be allowed to actively campaign for the presidential candidate. Arpaio said he wants to be more actively involved than just simply lending his name to campaign literature.
When asked about the differences between his and McCain's stances on immigration, Arpaio shrugged and noted that he and the Arizona senator agreed on enough other issues to seal a deal.
THE POWER RANKINGS
Congress.org's latest annual Power Rankings of the members of Congress provide interesting takes on Arizona's 10 member delegation.
First a little background: The deep thinkers behind the rankings score each member on a number of factors, including position, indirect influence, legislative activity, earmark passage and "sizzle/fizzle."
Nearly all of that is subjective. For example, racking up federal expenditures for earmarks is considered a positive factor in the rankings, while Sen. John McCain and Reps. Jeff Flake and John Shadegg knock earmarks as self-indulgent and wasteful.
Democrats also get an automatic edge in the rankings because they comprise the majority party in both the Senate and House, and as a result, score higher in the ranking's position and legislative activity categories.
So with that preamble ...
Among the 50 senators, Congress.org ranked McCain 10th and Kyl 18th - or second and third overall among Republicans. Interestingly, McCain's presidential rivals Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama placed ninth and 11th in the Senate, respectively.
On the House side, Congress.org ranked Democrat Ed Pastor 84th, Republican Shadegg 211th, Democrat Raul Grijalva 246th, Democrat Gabrielle Giffords 277th, Democrat Harry Mitchell 334th, and Republicans Jeff Flake 372nd, Trent Franks 387th and Rick Renzi dead last at 435th.
Also of note, Renzi was the only lawmaker to get a negative score. Renzi has been indicted on federal political corruption charges and faces decades in prison if found guilty.