Forget the labels. Check the records.
Ron Ennis, Lehigh Valley Postal Workers
Editor, Lehigh Valley Labor Council
“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names can never hurt me.” So goes the playground adage.
In politics, name-calling can make a campaign. Sen. John McCain is frequently called a “moderate” lawmaker. Lehigh Valley congressman Charles Dent is usually described as a “middle of the road” legislator. And Sen. Barak Obama is often referred to as an “agent of change.”
In the pages of your News & Views, we ignore the labels, and instead, look at the records of those seeking public office. Over the years, we’ve notice that the labor records of some political contenders fall short of the image they try to convey to union voters.
Crunching the latest numbers from the AFL-CIO, U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Congressional Quarterly, we review the records of this year’s crop of candidates. We’ll leave the name-calling to someone else.
Lifetime labor votes % labor votes
U.S. Senator Right-wrong correct
Barack Obama (D-IL) 27-1 96
Hillary Clinton (D-NY) 75-6 93%
Arlen Specter (R-PA) 194-126 61
John McCain (R-AZ) 35-176 17
Rick Santorum (R-PA) 17-114 13
Robert Casey (D-PA)* 33-1 97
* Sen. Casey’s vote totals are for 2007. All others are for 2006 and prior years.
First, let’s examine how the labor voting records of key U.S. senators stack-up against one another. The vote totals (Figure #1) include up to the 109th Congress, which ended in December 2006.
Clearly, Sen. McCain’s support for labor is more in line with the voting record of former Sen. Rick Santorum. And the man who defeated Santorum in 2006, Bob Casey, has a labor record that working families can cheer.
Like Casey, Senators Clinton and Obama have also demonstrated a sensitive ear to union workers. Their support mirrors Pennsylvania’s junior senator.
In Figure #2, the chart examines the records of McCain, Clinton, Obama and Specter with those of six retiring GOP senators on legislation important to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Established in 1912, the Chamber is the nation’s largest corporate lobby representing over three million businesses. It ranks members of Congress for key business votes, set out in its annual publication, How They Voted. These votes include favoring business tax cuts, repeal of trade restrictions, increased immigration and defeat of wage and worker safety legislation.
The table demonstrates that McCain’s support for business is almost as strong as his retiring GOP colleagues.
The six senatorial retirements also bring opportunity for working families to support pro-labor candidates. As the chart illustrates, all six departing senators had poor labor records.
% Chamber votes % labor votes
U.S. Senator correct* correct*
Hillary Clinton (D-NY) 42% 93%
Barack Obama (D-IL) 45 96
Arlen Specter (R-PA) 63 61
John McCain (R-AZ) 80 17
Trent Lott (R-Miss.) n/a 10
Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) 96 12
Pete Domenici (R-NM) 84 20
John Warner (R-VA) 89 17
Larry Craig (R-Idaho) 93 12
Wayne Allard (R-CO) 93 8
* Includes the 109th Congress, which ended December 2006.
Another important measure in this year’s presidential race is how often a candidate votes in support of policies set by President George Bush. With questions mounting over his handling of Iraq and the economy, particularly the housing market and credit meltdown, it’s important to look at the support lawmakers gave to the president’s positions.
Presidential support is defined as votes in support of Bush, which were publicly announced in a press conference, statement or executive decision (Figure #3).
Senate Support for Bush’s position (2001-2007)
U.S. Senator 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007
H. Clinton (D-NY) 33% 33% 53% 39% 69% 50% 35%
B. Obama (D-IL) - - - - 33 49 40
A. Specter (R-PA) 87 89 89 88 85 76 63
J. McCain (R-AZ) 89 77 92 91 90 91 95
R. Santorum (R-PA) 97 96 99 100 95 90 -
R. Casey (D-PA) - - - - - - 44
The loyalty Republicans have shown for Bush’s policies is evident in the above chart. In the 109th Congress, only Maine senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins differed more from the Bush administration than Specter.
Turning our attention to area House members in Figure #4 and #5, we see a pattern that emerged with the U.S. senators: Republicans frequently ignore the concerns of workers, while remaining faithful to the president’s policies.
The 2006 election of newcomers Patrick Murphy and Chris Carney plainly shows that union voters wanted change in their respective districts. The defeat of incumbents Michael Fitzpatrick and Don Sherwood was a victory for the rank-and-file over the interests of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
U.S. House* Lifetime labor votes** % labor votes**
Pennsylvania Right-wrong correct
J. Gerlach (R-6) 17-40 30%
P. Murphy (D-8)*** 31-2 94
M. Fitzpatrick (R-8) 15-14 52
J. Greenwood (R-8) 15-111 12
C. Carney (D-10)*** 31-2 94
D. Sherwood (R-10) 19-80 19
P. Kanjorski (D-11) 252-16 94
A. Schwartz (D-13) 28-1 97
J. Hoeffel (D-13) 67-2 97
C. Dent (R-15) 10-19 34
P. Toomey (R-15) 5-62 7
P. McHale (D-15) 53-9 85
T. Holden (D-17) 147-12 92
* Representatives in italics are no longer in office.
** Includes the 109th Congress, which ended December 2006.
*** Elected in Nov. 2006. Totals are from 2007 Congressional session.
As Bucks County’s congressman, Murphy is the only member of Congress who has served in Iraq. Because of his experience, he led fellow House members to consider changing America’s direction in Iraq. “Our troops have done their job,” he said last February. “Now it’s time to bring them home.”
Rep. Allyson Schwartz, who represents Northeast Philadelphia and part of Montgomery County, carries the tradition of support for middle class Americans from her predecessor Joe Hoeffel. Her expertise is healthcare. As a Harrisburg senator for 14 years, she was instrumental in creation of the state’s Children’s Health Insurance Program.
The 11th and 17th congressional districts are served by two solid labor advocates, Paul Kanjorski and Tim Holden respectively. Consequently, the Chamber gave Kanjorski a lifetime voting score of 31 percent. Holden received a 54 percent rating.
However, the 6th and 15th congressional districts are represented by corporate interests: Jim Gerlach in the former, Charles Dent in the latter. As of 2006, the Chamber noted that Jim Gerlach voted their way 93 percent of the time.
It should also be mentioned that Gerlach’s 2006 re-election was the second closest Republican victory, by percentage points, in a district whose voters gave Sen. John Kerry the nod for president in 2004. Aware of his vulnerability, he opposed Bush 31 percent of the time in the 109th Congress, 8th highest among GOP lawmakers.
Exactly 30 years ago, the 15th District was the scene of one of the biggest congressional upsets that year. In 1978, long-time incumbent Democrat Fred Rooney was unseated by Republican Don Ritter. The election signaled the beginning of the Reagan Revolution.
Since then, anti-labor lawmakers have nearly owned this congressional seat. Only Paul McHale’s six-year tenure, from 1993-1999, broke the string of union labor congressional defeats.
The 15th District is comprised of 326 voting precincts and is one of only seven House seats in the entire nation that voted for Gore in 2000 and Kerry in 2004, but retained a Republican for congressman.
The current legislator, Charles Dent, is an improvement for labor over his predecessor Pat Toomey. But Dent remains staunchly pro-business, receiving a 90 percent score from the Chamber at the end of 2006. Although “the two part ways on some social issues,” wrote the Congressional Quarterly, “Dent’s record will largely echo Toomey’s on economic issues.”
Some conclusions can be drawn from the above charts. Republican senators, with the exception of a few like Sen. Specter, rarely lend their votes to organized labor. This presents an obstacle for labor’s top legislative goal: passage of the Employee Free Choice Act. With Republicans rarely deviating from one another and almost unanimous in their opposition to the EFCA, it’s imperative that union workers widen the crack between the two parties in Congress if labor’s legislative priority has any hopes of survival.
House Support for Bush’s position (2001-2007)
U.S. House* 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007
J. Gerlach (R-6) - - 91% 76% 69% 69% 45%
P. Murphy (D-8) - - - - - - 9
M. Fitzpatrick (R-8) - - - - 61 65 -
J. Greenwood (R-8) 79 82 81 71 - - -
C. Carney (D-10) - - - - - - 16
D. Sherwood (R-10) 93 89 93 84 87 85 -
P. Kanjorski (D-11) 47 42 31 27 39 36 10
A. Schwartz (D-13) - - - - 21 27 8
J. Hoeffel (D-13) 36 38 15 24 - - -
C. Dent (R-15) - - - - 78 80 49
P. Toomey (R-15) 93 88 93 94 - - -
T. Holden (D-17) 40 60 49 48 52 56 13
* Representatives in italics are no longer in office.
So, who is a moderate? On labor issues, the voting records of most GOP lawmakers suggest that few, other than Sen. Specter, take a balanced approach to worker rights. And it can be argued that if you’re pleased with the conduct of the Iraq War, the direction of the economy, and the state of America’s healthcare, then vote Republican. GOP aspirants, such as McCain and Dent, have generally supported Bush’s positions in the past and will continue his policies after he leaves the White House.
And who is an agent of change? It’s an accurate depiction of many Democrats, including Senators Clinton and Obama. Most offer a new direction for labor and the economy, a course reversal in Iraq and a commitment to solving the nation’s healthcare crisis. “Those who perceive a big difference between Obama and Clinton,” said the Congressional Quarterly, “are looking at something other than their Senate votes.”
In this presidential year, your News & Views will focus on the records of your area lawmakers. We’ll leave the mudslinging to someone else.