Thursday, April 10, 2008

to vote with the House Leadership or not: that is the question

A really good article from David Mann with the Jeff/NA News-Tribune...

The context of the article: Mann focuses on Baron Hill's voting record and how it lines up with House leadership.

The Evening News and The Tribune compared Hill’s votes on 107 key issues during the current term with the votes of party leaders — Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, D-S.C. and Democratic Caucus chairman Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill. Hill, who was brought back to congress in 2006 during the Democratic takeover of the House of Representatives and the Senate, voted with his party’s leaders about 89 percent of the time, the records showed.

Commonly, it was budget matters with which he took issue. Hill also voted in favor of a bill which authorized U.S. monitoring foreign electronic communications routed through the country — something party leaders rejected. He also voted against a patient reform bill that changes the methods for obtaining and challenging patient claims.

The only position he took against the party that could be considered more liberal was a vote against a ban on human cloning. Asked about it, Hill said he didn’t remember the vote and that he was against human cloning.

And then an interesting quote from Hill:

“There’s a fair amount of pressure to vote their way,” he said. He doesn’t remember any time in which party leaders have told him to vote with his district.

I'm sure the pressure must be intense for Dems and GOP'ers. And I hadn't thought about it before, but the party leaders have no interest in whether you vote with your district!

Beyond that, Mann wrestles with the extent to which consistent voting is a good or bad thing.

“That’s a pretty decent number,” said Indiana political writer Brian Howey, who publishes the Howey Political Report.

If a Democratic representative gets under that 75 percent mark, many are going to start questioning their Democratic credentials, he said...

Hill's 89 percent score is up slightly from his previous term in 2003 and 2004. Then, he voted with the same party positions about 82 percent of the time. Howey said the change is likely a blip on the radar.

“I look at it as 70-80 percent is revealing some common sense,” he said. “I don’t think either party has cornered the market on wisdom.”

And then, Mann turns to the question of its political impact:

Howey said such numbers are commonly tracked because they're a good indication of party loyalty. However, he added, “I’ll be amazed if it's an issue that helps or hurts Baron Hill in the primary,” he said....

“To the average voter, I don't think [party loyalty] is an issue,” said Linda Gugin, professor of political science at Indiana University Southeast in New Albany. She’s also co-faculty adviser for the College Democrats. It might make a difference in other districts but likely not here, she said.

Voters understand that a lot of the issues on which their congressional representative is deciding are complex. Hill’s S-CHIP vote was the perfect example of that, Gugin said. He was for the program but didn't like the way it was funded.

I agree with Gugin about party loyalty, but I'm not at all sure that voters-- or at least "average voters"-- pay attention to "complex" voting matters. Public Choice economic theory indicates people (rationally) pay little attention to politics. And her claim does not comport with the bulk of negative political advertising-- which often takes complex matters and reduces them to overly-simplified and misrepresented paraphrase of one's views. Candidates believe that such an approach will be effective for them with voters.

Finally, some excerpts from Mann's interview with me:

Libertarian Eric Schansberg is also vying for the 9th District seat. Schansberg, an economics professor at IUS, ran last year and took about 5 percent of the vote.

Party struggles are not as much of an issue for him because there are no Libertarians in the House.

“For us it’s much more philosophical, than practical,” he said. There are debates about issues within the party — a small percentage of Libertarians support the war in Iraq, for example.

There are two big issues that stand out for him during the current term — continued funding of the war without a withdraw plan and the economic stimulus package. Both are issues that he would have expected to turn out differently considering that it’s a Democrat-controlled Congress....

Ironically, by this measure, my voting record would probably be seen as moderate-- because I would tend to disagree with both sides quite a bit!


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