The “GOP Lawmaker” Principle: Why You See So Many Articles About Random Right-Wing Politicians

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
March 18 2014 4:11 PM

The “GOP Lawmaker” Principle: Why You See So Many Articles About Random Right-Wing Politicians

This morning, the Huffington Post's Laura Bassett reported on audio obtained by Alliance for a Better Minnesota—audio that found state Rep. Andrea Kieffer dismissing paid-leave legislation as something that made women look "like whiners." The odds of a Huffington Post reader being represented by Kieffer, or living in Minnesota, were relatively small. But the story went large, and by 2:30 Minnesota time I had received a press blast from the Alliance telling me what Kieffer said. "Her comments have already gained national attention from the Huffington Post," wrote the progressive group.

This is as good a hook I'll find to describe what I've come to know as the the GOP Lawmaker Principle.

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As the national electoral plight of Democrats increases, so does the incidence of stories about obscure state Republican lawmakers.

Sure, state lawmakers are important. One of the grand ironies of politics is that people are more likely to know the politicians they're distant from (the president) than the ones with portfolios that cover them at the micro level (school board members). Every Congress contains a substantial number of former state legislators, and in this age of declining local media, not many of them have been scrutinized. 

But as a rule, if you see the phrase "GOP lawmaker" in a headline, your click will usher you into a world of back-benchers from Bismarck and Jackson and Dover and Sacramento, not the people currently threatening to take the Senate back from Democrats. The Lawmakers are anonymous until they screw up, and when they do, they are often easier to grab hold of then, say, front-running South Dakota U.S. Senate candidate Mike Rounds. If the lawmaker were famous, his name might make it into the hed. But he's not famous, so the story is about right-wing insanity that happens to come from a politician who may or may not represent you—click to find out.

A couple of recent examples of the phenomenon, with the number of votes he last received and the Facebook popularity of the item on HuffPost alone.

March 17: GOP Lawmaker Says Businesses Should Be Allowed To Deny Services To Black People. The lawmaker: South Dakota Sen. Phil Jensen. Votes won in last election: 5,722Facebook shares/likes: 18,000.

March 14: GOP Lawmaker: 'Public Education In America Is Socialism' The lawmaker: Ohio state Rep. Andrew Brenner. Votes won in last election: 31,385. Facebook shares/likes: 9,000.

March 11: New Hampshire GOP Lawmaker Jokes About 'Battered Women': 'I Still Eat Mine Plain.' The lawmaker: New Hampshire state Rep. Kyle Tasker. Votes won in last election: 3,469Facebook shares/likes: 9,500.

February 28: Republican Lawmaker Apologizes For Saying Men Should Be Able To Rape Women If Abortion Is Legal. The lawmaker: Maine Rep. Lawrence Lockman. Votes won in last election2,188Facebook shares/likes: 30,000.

February 18: GOP Lawmaker Claims We 'Could Use' Twice As Much Carbon Dioxide In The Atmosphere. The lawmaker: Utah Rep. Jerry Anderson. Votes won in last election6,476. Facebook shares/likes: 7,000.

David Weigel, a former Slate politics reporter, is a reporter for Bloomberg Politics

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