But in politics, liberal and conservative are used as often as Democrat and Republican. Last week the National Journal published its annual rankings, once again listing all 435 members of the House of Representatives, as well as all 100 senators.
Kathy Castor is the only elected Democrat in Congress who represents the Tampa Bay area. Her votes in 2012 earned her the rank of the 90th most liberal member of Congress, which ties her with perennial conservative bête noire Nancy Pelosi. Still, Castor's ranking is a big comedown compared to 2010.
Three years ago, the congresswoman — whose gerrymandered district includes Tampa, South St. Pete, and parts of Manatee County — was stunningly listed as the ninth most liberal member of the entire House, a ranking that Castor did not embrace at the time.
Then again, in 2010 the National Journal ranked Berkeley Congresswoman Barbara Lee the 90th most liberal member, so go figure.
Who is the most liberal congressman or woman based on their 2012 votes? There is a 14-way tie this year that includes Lee and four of her colleagues from the California Congressional delegation. By actual points, Michigan's John Conyers is at the top.
The National Journal offers a lengthy explanation for the ranking system:
Each roll-call vote was assigned a weight from 1 (lowest) to 3 (highest), based on the degree to which it correlated with other votes in the same issue area. A higher weight means that a vote was more strongly correlated with other votes and was, therefore, a better test of economic, social, or foreign policy ideology. The votes in each issue area were combined in an index (liberal or conservative votes as a percentage of total votes cast, with each vote weighted 1, 2, or 3).
Who was the most conservative member of the House based on their 2012 votes? None other than Kansas Rep. Todd ("legitimate rape") Akin. Former Fort Myers area Republican Connie Mack IV is the highest ranked Florida Congressman coming in at 13, and Dennis Ross from Polk County is two behind at 15.
Here's news for Awake Pinellas! and other activist groups who have targeted Pinellas County Rep. Bill Young. He's ranked as the 215th most conservative member of the House. Sarasota's Vern Buchanan comes in at 185, and Pinellas/Pasco's Gus Bilirakis at 148.
In another surprise, Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson is ranked the 28th most liberal senator, placing him higher than noted liberals John Kerry and Socialist Bernie Sanders.