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One of the reasons U.S. Rep. David Cicilline gives when asking voters in the 1st Congressional District to send him back to Washington is that Rhode Islanders need a Democrat in that seat to prevent the Republican Party -- and by implication, conservatives -- from doing bad things.
During a discussion on the contest during the Rhode Island PBS program "A Lively Experiment," former Republican Lt. Gov. Bernard Jackvony said Cicilline is far more liberal than most.
"Cicilline is the 5th most liberal person in the House of Representatives," he said.
There's no reason to debate Cicilline's liberalism, but is he really the 5th-most left-leaner in that highly partisan institution?
When we called Jackvony to ask the source of his information, he said he heard the factoid as part of a question in the WPRI-TV-Providence Journal debate on Aug. 28 between Cicilline and Anthony Gemma. WPRI's Ted Nesi told us he made a reference to Cicilline's voting record, but he was referring to a different ranking, by OpenCongress.org.
On that website, Cicilline is indeed ranked 5th. But it's a list of party-line votes among Democrats, not liberal votes. Of 1,697 votes logged, the congressman voted with the majority of the House Democratic caucus 95.9 percent of the time.
One could argue that Democrat votes are liberal votes, but that's a gross oversimplification. The website notes that the list makes no distinction between serious deeply divisive issues and the hundreds of votes on routine matters where ideology doesn't play a role.
The Washington Post has a similar database. It has Cicilline voting with the party on 96 percent of 1,503 votes. In that ranking, where the percentages are rounded off, Cicilline is listed as third among Democrats. But 36 House members -- 11 Democrats and 25 Republicans -- also voted with the party line at least 96 percent of the time.
Because Jackvony characterized Cicilline as the 5th-most liberal member of the House, we looked for other sources that actually use that metric.
Many special-interest groups give legislators scores for their votes on various liberal and conservative issues, although their lists are typically not very comprehensive.
However, the National Journal, a weekly magazine that covers politics, has an annual survey that ranks members of Congress on the liberal and conservative scales. In its latest report, Cicilline is the 48th most liberal member of the House, based on 949 roll call votes. That keeps him out of the National Journal's "Most Liberal" category.
We also checked rankings for two conservative organizations, where the more liberal you are, the lower your score.
Heritage Action for America, the activist arm of The Heritage Foundation, scores Cicilline at 12 percent, tied for 31st place (with 24 others) on the liberal scale.
Club for Growth has Cicilline tied at 19th from the bottom.
The liberal website Progressive Punch tags Cicilline as the 49th most liberal member of the House.
In short, nobody puts him close to 5th.
And to illustrate how the rankings differ depending on who does them, the National Review and Progressive Punch list Cicilline as more liberal than his Rhode Island colleague, Rep. James Langevin. Heritage Action and Club for Growth say Langevin is more liberal.
Former Lt. Gov. Bernard Jackvony said Rep. David Cicilline "is the 5th most liberal person in the House of Representatives."
He was citing a statistic that ranked party-line voting, not liberal votes, although among Democrats the two often go hand in hand.
There is no definitive arbiter of which congressman is more liberal than the next. Different organizations judge candidate voting records differently.
The rankings we found gave Cicilline a bit more moderate score and the respected National Journal didn't even include the congressman in its tally of the 25 "most liberal" members of the House.
Cicilline is clearly liberal. But because Jackvony was so specific, and he was specifically wrong, we rate his statement False.
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YouTube.com, "A Lively Experiment 08 21 2012 WSBE DT HD RI PBS 1," aired Sept. 2, 2012, accessed Sept. 10, 2012.
Interview, Bernard Jackvony, former Rhode Island lieutenant governor, Sept. 10, 2012
Email, Ted Nesi, WPRI.com, Sept. 10, 2012
OpenCongress.org, "Voting With Party," accessed Sept. 10, 2012
WashingtonPost.com "U.S. Congress Votes Database; 112th Congress; David Cicilline (D)," and "U.S. Congress Votes Database; 112th Congress; Explore the House," both accessed Sept. 10, 2012.
NationalJournal.com, "2011 Vote Ratings - House Ratings," "2011 Vote Ratings - Most Liberal, Most Conservative," and "How the Vote Ratings Are Calculated," all Feb. 23, 2012, all accessed Sept. 13, 2012
HeritageAction.com, "Score Card," revised Aug. 14, 2012, and "About Heritage Action," both accessed Sept. 13, 2012
ClubForGrowth.org, "Club's Congressional Scorecard," accessed Sept. 13, 2012
ProgressivePunch.org, "All issues, all members, House of Representatives," accessed Sept. 13, 2012
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