Bills, bills, bills: How campaign promises translate into legislation

May 16 2013

This semester, one of our biggest projects, which we refer to as “Promises,” has been collecting the campaign platforms of all of the legislators in North Carolina. That is 184 legislators who we have been trying to track down for the last few months. It was definitely an eye-opening experience to learn about the platforms (or lack thereof) of each state legislator, but that is a story for another lab report.

The second part to the process of creating “Promises” is to read all of the legislation that has passed in N.C. in this session and to see legislators’ agendas and votes match up with with campaign planks.

The thought of this task was daunting — almost as daunting as the time that it takes for a bill to become a law.


But it has turned out to be very straightforward.

The first paragraph of each bill outlines the main principle of what the bill is about, and while it is written in legalese it is quite intuitive to understand if a bill is trying to make legislation about education or healthcare.

One of the biggest realizations that I have learned in the process is that there is a lot of legislation that does not pertain to any platform.

We had to add in a new category called “Legislative logistics.” This is for bills that do not align with any platform but instead are just about bureaucratic matters like what time the legislative session will be adjourned. This bill, which discussed the fact that the legislature will begin session at 9 a.m.,  was read three times in the General Assembly as is North Carolina law.

I realize that there are times when this sort of adjournment date is important, such as in the  fiscal cliff adjournment date before the New Year.

But the idea that so much time is spent simply on logistics in the legislature is something that we don’t often think about.

Most of the bills that I read were not making any huge changes in the way our state is run – and yet those are the main types of campaign promises that are made. Many legislators made vague promises about “restoring government efficiency and equality.”

I realize that this is a sign of a stable government that our laws don’t often change dramatically, but it feels a whole lot more like partisan gridlock.

This entire project has not necessarily instilled a great amount of faith in our governmental process, and I am not the only one. A recent New York Times article explained that our generation feels little hope about getting away from the polarization of partisan politics.

And to this point reading legislation has done little to revive this hope.

Instead, when I read blogs or stories about recent North Carolina legislation I recognize the legislators mentioned in them as people who never responded to my phone calls.

You can check out each legislator’s campaign platforms on our Roll Call site for each individual.

See if you know what your legislator’s platform is – and if he or she is sticking to his or her promises.

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