In early July 2011, Rep. Mary Nolan, D-Portland, announced she’d run for a spot on the Portland City Council. Not long after that, critics started taking aim. Jack Bogdanski, a local blogger, waited just one day, in fact, before he let loose in a blog that questioned Nolan’s (and her husband’s) connections to the council.
He also threw in this little bit as an aside: "In the Legislature, she has been a party-line Democrat, showing a 100% track record in harmony with the American Civil Liberties Union."
These sorts of attacks are pretty common when it comes to campaigns -- look at how much of a partisan so-and-so is, look how often the candidate votes with a specific organization. Still, they’re worth checking out, not just because it’s important to know whether they’re accurate, but also because it’s important to know what exactly, a "100% track record in harmony with the American Civil Liberties Union" -- for instance -- might look like.
In the statement itself, there are actually two assertions. The first is that Nolan is a party-line Democrat. The second is that she has voted 100 percent in line with the ACLU.
Let’s start with the ACLU.
This is a pretty easy fact to check. The American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon creates a Legislative Scorecard for each session dating back to 1997. They don’t have the most recent 2011 session tabulated just yet, so we started with the scorecard that combined the voting positions from the 2009 session and the 2010 special session.
On that scorecard, Nolan did get a 100 percent. In fact, Nolan got the highest score of any lawmaker in both the House and Senate.
What exactly does that mean? Well, here are some of the votes that earned her that 100:
-She opposed a bill that overturned a law prohibiting public school teachers from wearing religious dress. (This passed.)*
-She opposed a law that created a government-operated pharmacy database of prescriptions. (This passed.)
-She supported a bill that prohibited the state from taking further steps to implement the federal Real ID Act. (This passed.)
-She opposed a bill that expanded the death penalty and gave fetuses equal status as a "human being" under state law. (This failed.)
-She opposed a bill that would have allowed employers to terminate employees who hold medical marijuana cards, without evidence of impairment on the job. (This failed.)
-She opposed an amendment to the Oregon Constitution’s free expression clause to allow local governments to regulate nude dancing. (This failed.)
Now, that’s just two sessions worth of voting. We figured we should do our due diligence and check back as far as 2001 -- Nolan’s first term in the Oregon House. As it happens, Nolan has earned a 100 percent each year the scorecard has been done, save for 2003, when she earned an 80 percent. That year she went against the ACLU and voted in favor of legislation that limited access to public records about Oregon Health & Science University animal researchers.
Besides that hiccup, though, it does seem that Nolan votes in harmony with the ACLU nearly 100 percent of the time.
We asked Nolan whether this sounded right to her and, after taking a look at past scorecards, she said it did.
"I don't keep track of scorecards," she said. "But i do very consistently vote to protect the rights of people of color, of women, of kids, of gays and lesbians, of whistle blowers …
"It happens that that's what the ACLU cares about. But i care about it because government ought to protect the rights of the people who don't have power of their own."
Now, let’s get to that other bit of the statement, the one that calls Nolan a party-line Democrat.
To check this bit, we turned to The Oregonian’s Your Government website. People smarter than we are have created a vote recorder that keeps tabs on every floor vote made in the Oregon Capitol and then does some mathematics to figure out just how often a given representative or senator votes with her or his own party.
If you look at the numbers for the 2011 session, Nolan voted along party lines just over 92 percent of the time. Your average Democrat last session voted with the party about 94 percent of the time.
This database doesn’t got as far back as 2001, but we checked the figures for the 2010 special session and the 2009 regular session. In 2010, she voted with her party 98 percent of the time (same as your average Democrat), and in 2009, she voted with her party 97.5 percent of the time (also the average).
Now, these scores don’t offer a whole lot of nuance in terms of what she broke with her party on, but the general idea that she votes in harmony with her party seems pretty well supported by these figures.
We’ll give the statement that Nolan is "a party-line Democrat, showing a 100% track record in harmony with the American Civil Liberties Union" a True.
*CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story mischaracterized the effect of this bill. The sentence has been updated. The ruling was not affected.