Categorized | Commentary/Editorial

Ron Devito: How to Vet Voting Records

Guest Submission by Ron Devito

"I have great respect for the wisdom of the people….the American voter doing their own homework, knowing who these candidates are, what they represent, what their experience provides them – they will be making up their own mind."

-Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin
December 1, 2011, Hannity

An incumbent seeking re-election or a candidate having served in a prior office has a voting record. The purpose of examining voter records is to assess:

  • Congruency of stated position in campaign materials and actual voting record.
  • Integrity or lack thereof.
  • Consistency of position on issues vs. "flip-flopping."
  • If a change in position on an issue is heart-felt or motivated by political expediency.
  • Possible evidence of crony capitalism or other forms of corruption when assessed along with financial data. A key indicator is the legislation benefits a business or industry and there are major campaign or PAC contributions from interests associated with the business or industry. You likely need to cross-reference voting records and financial data to see this.

Note that legislators have a penchant for attaching amendments to bills that have nothing to do with the bill itself. A legislator might vote against a bill that seemingly aligns with your values because of these amendments. So, you may need to look up public statements about the decision to see if this factor was operative. Similarly, many bills are deceptively named. Just because the name sounds like something you agree with does not mean that it is. If something about a candidate’s vote on a bill causes alarm bells to ring, investigate further.

Remember that no one in the House or Senate can truthfully claim to have cut a budget. Gov. Palin noted this in her December 1, 2011 TV interview with Sean Hannity and Eric Felten’s The Ruling Class: Inside the Imperial Congress detailed how "services baseline" budgeting works back in 1993. Nothing has changed since then.

At the federal level, both the House and Senate provide complete official roll call voting records, so if your candidate has served in the House or Senate, you will find the voting record here. These records are organized by the legislation or resolution voted on. You cannot go to one of these sites and search a particular person’s complete record, so using these sites fast becomes a real chore. Some Representatives and Senators do list their complete voting records, but it is not common practice.

We should push our elected representatives to post their complete voting records, not just at the federal level but at the state and municipal levels as well. We should also be able to see complete voting records, not just sponsored or introduced pieces of legislation.

US House of Representatives

US House of Representatives Roll Call Votes

US Senate

US Senate Roll Call Votes

Project VoteSmart

Project VoteSmart is a non-partisan organization consisting of an equal number of liberals and conservatives. A search on a person’s name will pull up the voting record, and in some cases financial disclosures. VoteSmart has a Political Courage Test which virtually no major candidate of either party has taken. Thus, nearly every candidate will have "Lacks Courage" under his or her name. Is this an indictment of all candidates of both parties, or is it more an indictment of VoteSmart? We’ll leave that question for our readers to decide.

For the 2012 POTUS election, VoteSmart offers a tool known as VoteEasy which asks you to answer 20 questions about various issues and rank their level of importance to you. Based on your answers, the algorithm will pick one or more candidates who supposedly most closely align with your position on the issues. How reliable is it? All I will say is run it and judge for yourself. I certainly would not stake my voting position on VoteEasy, but it can be valuable as a starting point.

The VoteSmart site does a very good job with highlighting voting records of those candidates who have House or Senate experience. It also goes to the state and municipal levels, though not as comprehensively.

Project VoteSmart


Cross-Referencing VoteSmart, Senate and House Sites

The easiest way to vet a candidate with House or Senate experience running for re-election or for POTUS is to first use Project VoteSmart. This is because VoteSmart will pull up the voting record associated with a candidate. If a candidate voted a certain way on a piece of legislation that you determine warrants further investigation, you can go to the appropriate site and search on the legislation to read its text. By doing this, you can see if the candidate in fact "flip-flopped" or found an amendment to a bill or act objectionable.

State and Municipal Offices

State and municipal records are much harder to track down than House and Senate records. Each state and city site has its own quirks and there will be a learning curve in accessing them. As the offices get smaller in scale, the records get more scarce. Some states and cities may not have this information online, making vetting a real chore.

Still, the procedure is similar to the federal offices. In New York State, all legislation sponsored by a state Senator or a State Assembly member is available online. The same is true for the New York City Council. But, finding how these elected officials voted on legislation they did not sponsor is very difficult. Sponsored legislation should give you enough information to make a reasonable assessment.

Here are some examples using New York State and New York City:

New York State Senate: Diane Savino

New York State Assembly: Matthew Titone

New York City Council: use the advanced search. You can find sponsored legislation, by picking the council member’s name off the drop-down menu and it’s organized by first name first.

Executives: Governors and Mayors

Executives sign and veto legislation, thus they have a "voting record." Visit the state gubernatorial website and the city’s mayoral site where the official served. Executives do more than sign and veto legislation, however. The governor is the president of a state and the mayor is the president of a city. Executives fill appointed positions, administer budgets, and manage crises. A governor has ultimate command over the state’s National Guard units and the state police. A mayor has ultimate command over a city’s police and fire departments. Executives sign ceremonial proclamations. Don’t pooh pooh these. Just ask any sitting or prior executive how riled up a voting bloc gets if a pertinent proclamation is forgotten or omitted one year. These proclamations reflect somewhat on issues that may be important to the executive. Everything matters when vetting, even those items that on the surface appear petty.

When you vet someone who has executive experience, you need to look beyond "voting record" – legislation signed and vetoed – to consider all facets of the executive’s job and how well he or she performed in these areas. Gov. Palin’s accomplishments throughout her life, for instance have been thoroughly compiled and continue to be updated. The point in using Gov. Palin’s accomplishments for this exercise is not to compare others to her, but to see the various aspects of what an executive does.

Using New York State as the example again, here is the list of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s signed legislation, and Gov. Cuomo’s initiatives, including budgets. Here is Project VoteSmart’s Key Issues Summary on Gov. Cuomo. There are a fair number of bills vetoed, and you can see he used the line item veto on a budget vote. I learned something new writing this. I had no idea my home state has the line item veto.

New York City’s Mayor, Michael Bloomberg does not list legislation signed or vetoed, but he does list his accomplishments, issues that matter to him, and his executive orders.

While state and city sites are excellent resources for sitting executives, finding the accomplishments of a prior governor or mayor will require some real digging, because much of that information is archived.

Google (or Bing, or whatever) is Your Friend

For instance, just on a Google search, I saw that my councilwoman, Deborah ("Debi") Rose received the endorsements of Planned Parenthood, NARAL, and NOW and is favorably predisposed to the Working Families Party. She is a hard leftist and her sponsored legislation (mainly resolutions) confirms that. All this came up without my even having to open the links, but I could see the links themselves were authoritative. Using a search engine is a good supplementary tool for vetting voting records.

The Next Installment

The next installment will show you how to vet financial data and why you should cross-reference it with voting records.

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  • travelingon

    Thank you, this is very helpful.

  • Firelight

    Excellent Ron!!

    It is important that we look at the complete records and statements of these candidates to get the full picture. Not because we want to tear them down but so that we know the whole truth.

    Gov. Palin said it is not hateful to look at someone’s record and every candidate needs to be vetted. Some on here need to remember that.

    Great article and good resources.

  • Hyman Roth

    I still have my list somewhere of Republican House members who voted for both versions of the Boehner "debt deal" earlier in the year.  Those votes would be enough for me not to support someone next year (HINT: Allen West is on the list).

    I’ll re-paste it here if anyone is interested. 

    • goldenprez

      Hyman … Even though I am no longer going to post my opinions on C4P, I will still be reading it for news updates.

      In that regard, please re-paste the list as noted above.

      Incidentally, when I questioned the "conservative" principles of Colonel West, many months ago after the votes you cite, I was abused by "the usual suspects" in the same manner as I was abused for my views on Newt Gingrich.

      As usual, I was proved absolutely right, as Colonel West has shown himself to be all talk. When it got right down to "the real nitty gritty," Colonel West went along with the "establishment" GOP leaders, and sold out his TEA Party backers.

      While I have not researched it thoroughly enough, I am willing to wager that Sandy Adams of Florida is also on your list. Along with many others who are "hiding" their "sell out" votes.

      Believe none of what you hear, and only half of what you see.

      Illegitimi non carborundum.

      Barracudas Maximus.

      • Hyman Roth

        Ask and ye shall receive:

        BonnerBono Mack
        Brady (TX)Buchanan
        Coffman (CO)Cole
        CrenshawCulbersonDavis (KY)
        DuffyDuncan (TN)
        Graves (MO)
        Griffin (AR)Grimm
        HarperHastings (WA)
        Herrera BeutlerHuizenga (MI)Hurt
        Johnson (OH)Johnson, SamKelly
        King (NY)Kinzinger (IL)
        Lewis (CA)
        Lungren, Daniel E.
        McCarthy (CA)
        McMorris Rodgers
        Miller (FL)
        Miller (MI)Miller, Gary
        Murphy (PA)
        PlattsPompeoPrice (GA)Reed
        RiveraRoe (TN)
        Rogers (AL)
        Rogers (KY)
        Rogers (MI)
        Ryan (WI)Schilling
        SimpsonSmith (NE)
        Smith (NJ)
        Smith (TX)StiversSullivan
        Thompson (PA)
        WoodallYoung (AK)Young (FL)Young (IN)

        • goldenprez

          Hyman … Much obliged.

          Isn’t it interesting that Bachmann, Kinzinger, Walsh, Gomert, Stutzman, and Jim Jordan are not on the list?

          It is indicative of what we are up against, and the trap of supporting any of the "establishment" GOP candidates seeking the nomination for President.

          Believe none of what you hear, and only half of what you see.

          Illegitimi non carborundum.

          Barracudas Maximus.

  • Mrl Tav

    It should be noted that since she decided to run for president, Michele Bachmann has missed 88 votes in the Congress.

  • Nichama

    Here’s my contribution to the vetting process
    IBD Editorials
    On The RightSelf-Taught Newt Gingrich Has Learned To Persevere
    By MICHAEL BARONE Posted 12/06/2011 06:42 PM ET
    Here are a couple of things to keep in mind about Newt Gingrich, as he leads in polls for the Republican presidential nomination nationally and in Iowa and South Carolina, and may be threatening Mitt Romney’s lead in New Hampshire.One is that he is an autodidact. A second is that he has incredible perseverance.Autodidact is a fancy word for someone who is self-taught. Gingrich calls himself a historian and says his worldview was shaped at age 15 by viewing the bones at the ossuary at Verdun, site of the World War I battle.And he did earn a Ph.D. in history in 1971, with a dissertation on "Belgian Education Policy in the Congo: 1945-1960."But he hasn’t pursued that or any other subject with scholarly rigor. Instead, in his voluminous writings and unusually lengthy speeches, you will find references to the futurist Alvin Tofler, to Olympic beach volleyball, to zoos and space exploration.You’ll find management book lingo, salesmanship tips, offbeat and sometimes revealing facts and anecdotes.Gingrich started running for Congress as a teacher at West Georgia College, in a traditionally Democratic area where he had no local connections, in 1973. That was when Richard Nixon was president.Nelson Rockefeller was governor of New York and Ronald Reagan governor of California. Both had supported tax increases and signed bills legalizing abortion. Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio and Bobby Jindal were not yet in kindergarten.The sophisticates of the time said that Vietnam proved that America was overextended and impotent, Watergate proved that it was morally unworthy and corrupt, and stagflation proved that its days of economic growth were over. Gingrich disagreed on all three counts.With autodidact intensity he argued then, and has argued ever since, that America is not in decline but at the brink of technological and economic breakthroughs; it is not a waning power in the world, but one that can inspire revolutionary transformation; the wave of the future is not the liberal welfare state but (in a 1983 phrase that never quite caught on) the conservative opportunity society.Politically he persevered through adversity. He ran a strong race against a longtime Democratic incumbent but lost in the Watergate year of 1974. He set out to run again, but after Jimmy Carter clinched the Democratic nomination he knew he could not win in rural Georgia. It was only when he ran a third time in 1978 that he finally won.I remember Gingrich predicting that in the 1984 cycle Republicans would win a majority in the House of Representatives. Every political insider thought that was ridiculous, and it illustrates Gingrich’s tendency toward overoptimism.But while he was wrong on the timing, he was right on the reasons why the Republicans could and would end the Democrats’ decades of control. He saw that the South was moving Republican as elderly incumbents retired and that smart young Democrats elected in Vietnam and Watergate years would be replaced by Republicans. That finally happened in 1994, and Gingrich became speaker of the House.His record there was mixed. As I wrote in the 1998 Almanac of American Politics, "He had more success as an inside-the-House legislative leader than as an outside-the-House shaper of public opinion."Congress passed welfare reform and held spending level for a year, which led to a balanced budget. Gingrich and Bill Clinton were negotiating Medicare and Social Security reforms until distracted in different ways by impeachment.But many Republicans felt that Gingrich was continually outnegotiated by Clinton, who as Gingrich told me at the time, "never stops learning." Other Republican leaders nearly ousted him in an unprecedented coup in 1997, and few colleagues are supporting him for president now.As for the public, Gingrich became widely unpopular due, as I wrote then, to "a cocksureness, a professorial abstractness about policy, a more than occasional petulance and high self regard."He also showed a tin ear for proprieties, divorcing two wives to marry other women and signing a seven-figure book contract as speaker (later dropped), just as he signed up for seven figures from Freddie Mac after leaving office.Asked a year ago whether he was running, Gingrich said, "Why wouldn’t I?" When his campaign staff resigned en masse, he persevered. Now we’ll see if voters entrust this autodidact with a position for which few of his colleagues think he is fitted.

  • Nichama

    IBD Editorials
    Both Obama, Gingrich Show Teddy Roosevelt Some Love
     Posted 12/06/2011 06:42 PM ET
    Campaign ’12: Two leading presidential candidates wrap themselves in the legacy of Theodore Roosevelt. TR was in some ways a decent leader, but the example of America’s first progressive president isn’t one to follow today.
    In recent days, both GOP hopeful Newt Gingrich and President Obama have cited the same man as someone to emulate: Theodore Roosevelt.
    While most Americans know Roosevelt for his hypermasculine, hard-charging leadership style, he was in fact a progressive — and, indeed, ran for president in 1912 on the Progressive Party ticket.
    So we weren’t surprised when President Obama spoke Tuesday in Osawatomie, Kan., the same place where Teddy Roosevelt in 1910 called for a "New Nationalism" and a "Square Deal" in a landmark speech of modern progressivism and of activist, big government.
    In his homage to TR, Obama called this a "make-or-break moment for the middle class." He was, of course, again resorting to class warfare — a classic progressive ploy, used to great effect by TR and others.
    In fact, the middle class has fared less well under Obama than under any other president since World War II. They’re the ones who’ll have to pay off the trillions of dollars in debt the government has piled up to pay for Obama’s failed stimulus and bailout schemes.
    Symbolism aside, as Jonah Goldberg has noted, "Teddy’s New Nationalism was equal parts nationalism and socialism" — the antithesis of the American way.
    This tells you a lot about Obama’s plans for his second term. He wants to take us further down the road to direct government control of the economy, in the name of "fairness" — another favorite progressive word.
    Of course, that’s to be expected from Obama, the most radical president in our nation’s history. And that’s why we were disappointed to hear Gingrich also invoke the spirit, if not the deeds, of TR’s progressive ideology.
    In comments made to Glenn Beck, Gingrich reaffirmed his claim to being a "Teddy Roosevelt Republican," defending government subsidies, his support for expanded Medicare and his past support for action against climate change.
    No, we don’t think TR was evil. He did some good things. But his progressive legacy isn’t one of them. Progressives laud TR’s "trust-busting," excessive regulation of the economy, trashing of the Constitution and expansion of presidential power as progressive virtues.
    As a matter of fact, the Progressive Movement, of which TR was avatar, turned into one of the most pernicious political movements in American history.
    It championed race-based eugenics, weakened the U.S. Constitution, created the idea of the modern imperial presidency, and pushed government’s ever-expanding nose into both our private and business affairs to a degree not foreseen by our nation’s wise founders.
    Is this our choice in 2012? Two flavors of progressivism, one Democrat, one Republican? We hope not. As it once was said, Americans deserve a choice, not an echo.

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