Minnesota’s freshman Legislature: A participatory performance review

How did the freshmen vote? How did their activity reflect the major donors to their 2010 campaigns?
How did the freshmen vote? How did their activity reflect the major donors to their 2010 campaigns?

Last week I asked for help selecting my next story or topic. The response was fantastic, with more than 50 ideas submitted.

I wanted a topic I could pursue with a level of transparency that is unusual for a reporter. I’ll be keeping a public reporting diary to follow along as I work my way through the project. Anybody with an interest in the topic, including the subjects of my reporting, will be able to see what I’m up to and comment on my process and progress.

I explained the vision for the project in my previous post, Transparency in reporting: Help me pick my next investigation, then watch it unfold.

Let’s get started!

The investigation
The focus of this project will be the freshmen of Minnesota’s 2011 legislative session. With the Legislature (finally) in recess, there is much data to digest. How did the freshmen vote? How did their activity reflect the major donors to their 2010 campaigns? What did they reveal about their political beliefs and leadership skills in public comments and correspondence with constituents? And of course, what can we expect from them in 2012?

How you can participate
It begins with something like an audit of each fresh lawmaker. I am starting with three data sources:

1) The Sunlight Foundation’s Open States project. I used their data to create a spreadsheet of the freshmen lawmakers. I’ve uploaded it to this project’s Google Docs folder as Fresh MN Legislators 2011 (Raw). I classified the data as “raw” because I’ll be checking the data, cleaning it up, and adding my own fields.

2) The National Institute on Money in State Politics has an arsenal of tools for analyzing campaign contributions. Have a look at this list of the state’s victorious 2010 House candidates. And here is a list of Minnesota Senate candidates. Click on a name to review contributor information.

3) For the nuts and bolts biographical information, there is the 2010 Minnesota Legislature Election Directory, which I’ve also uploaded to Google Docs.

You can follow my web research through these public bookmarks. There is an RSS feed for these bookmarks.

There is also my public reporting diary. Read the first entry to see how you can participate in the discussion at every step of my reporting process.

If you want to participate but don’t want to follow the reporting diary, I’ve created an email list for weekly updates. You can sign up to receive those emails here. I’ll also be posting updates at The Intelligencer.

Finally, you can add your thoughts in the comments of any related post, including this one.

Thank you for participating in this experiment. I’m excited to get started.

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Comments (4)

  1. Submitted by Arvonne Fraser on 08/03/2011 - 11:24 am.

    Great project. Hope somebody replicates this on the national level.

  2. Submitted by Grace McGarvie on 08/03/2011 - 03:28 pm.

    Project votesmart is a great site for researching facts about all officeholders and candidates. Both the state and federal office are tracked.

    Search to see who is your representative by inputting your zip code, then you can click on any of the representatives that come up and learn how they voted on some key issues and how various interest groups rate this person.

    The site contains a wealth of information on all office holders and candidates.

  3. Submitted by Tony George on 08/04/2011 - 07:54 am.

    Can we assign a score of less than zero to the freshmen of Minnesota’s 2011 legislative session? They seem to have contempt for everything except their beloved Koch brothers, their campaign financiers.

  4. Submitted by Rod Loper on 08/04/2011 - 08:45 am.

    Why are there no reporters of your caliber in the
    Minnesota MSM these days? It’s a shame.

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