Telegraph analysis gives Marshall voting record closer scrutiny

mstucka@macon.comOctober 30, 2010 

  • About this story

    Telegraph staff members Mike Stucka and Ashe Nelson wrote computer programs to analyze about 2.5 million individual votes in the House of Representatives since U.S. Rep. Jim Marshall first took office in 2003. The Telegraph examined about 5,700 different roll-call votes in the House after processing data from the clerk of the House.

    The Telegraph used that data to make comparisons among and between Reps. Jim Marshall, a Democrat from Macon; Nancy Pelosi, a Democratic leader from San Francisco; John Boehner, a Republican leader from Ohio; and the votes of the House whips, who during Marshall’s time have been Democrats Steny Hoyer of Maryland and Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, as well as Republicans Roy Blunt of Missouri and Eric Cantor of Virginia.

In recent weeks, the battle for the 8th Congressional District seat has centered on U.S. Rep. Jim Marshall’s voting record and his loyalty to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, leader of the House Democrats.

In television ads that have flooded the airwaves across the region, Republicans aligned with challenger Austin Scott contend that Marshall has voted nearly 90 percent of the time with Pelosi. Marshall denies that claim, and he has gone to great lengths to distance himself from Pelosi, saying that he voted to elect her speaker four times only because there was no other choice.

Marshall campaign ads claim that he has voted with Republican leaders 65 percent of the time, a claim that factcheck.org, a nonpartisan group that monitors the factual accuracy of TV ads and more, has called into question.

From both sides of the fight, claims about Marshall’s voting record have been true sometimes, misleading sometimes, and sometimes they’ve been taken out of context.

The fight is essentially over whether Marshall is who he says he is — a moderate working both sides of the political aisle — or a “Pelosicrat” who Republicans say has been closely aligned with a big government San Francisco liberal.

Claims by the National Republican Congressional Committee that Marshall votes with Pelosi “almost 90 percent of the time” come from a Washington Post analysis of how often Marshall voted with his own party in the last two years. But a vote with other Democrats isn’t necessarily the same thing as a vote specifically with Pelosi. As speaker of the House, Pelosi, following tradition, votes only on select or major bills.

The Telegraph looked at how often Marshall voted with Pelosi — since she’s been House speaker — when Pelosi and House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, cast opposing votes on substantive legislation. The Telegraph analysis — of 2.5 million House votes — shows that Marshall has backed Pelosi 60.6 percent of the time and Boehner 39.4 percent of the time when Pelosi and Boehner disagreed on a measure.

In the last four years, in every vote regardless of importance, Marshall voted with Pelosi about 68 percent of the time. He also voted with Boehner 54 percent of the time. Votes by Boehner, Pelosi and Marshall often agreed.

With Pelosi skipping most of the House votes, Marshall has voted the same way as Pelosi 170 times since she took power. He has voted the same way as Boehner in 1,549 votes.

Marshall’s voting record has put him and others across the country in the cross hairs of Republican attempts to oust the Blue Dog Democrats, a self-described group of moderate-to-conservative Democrats.

Marshall said he’s not trying to support to Pelosi three-fifths of the time or to back Boehner two-fifths of the time there’s a fight.

“I absolutely think we ought to all be voting issue by issue,” he said. “If more people would do that, we wouldn’t be passing the kind of legislation we are out of the House, regardless of who’s in charge.”

Chris Grant, an associate professor of political science at Mercer University, said gerrymandering has made few congressional districts as balanced as Georgia’s 8th, which leans Republican. Grant said Marshall is one of the relatively few moderates left in Congress.

“He’s got to be one of the most conservative Democrats in Congress,” Grant said. “He’s not voted with Democrats on key issues.”

Fair comparison, Scott campaign says

How often does Marshall vote with his party overall? The Washington Post found that it was 88.5 percent during the last two years. The Telegraph’s analysis showed Marshall voted specifically with Pelosi about 78 percent of the time since Marshall was first elected eight years ago. During part of that period, Pelosi was voting more often and on less substantial measures.

Sam Ray, a spokesman for Scott, said it is fair to equate a vote with Democrats to a vote with Pelosi.

“If he’s voting with what she brings to the floor, 88.5 percent of the time, he’s voting with her,” Ray said.

Marshall told The Telegraph that the voting comparison is an attack on his character.

“I have consistently voted the way I thought was best for my country and my district. To say I voted 90 percent with Pelosi or Boehner is just a lie,” he said.

Marshall has launched ads declaring that “Jim Marshall is a long way from Nancy Pelosi. Jim Marshall doesn’t support Nancy Pelosi. He voted the same as Republican leaders 65 percent of the time.”

FactCheck.org accused Marshall of cherry-picking that figure from votes cast only this year to make him appear more closely aligned with Republicans. FactCheck said a comparison of the last four years would be more accurate. The Telegraph studied the last four — and Marshall’s full eight — years of voting.

The Telegraph’s analysis of voting records since Marshall first took office also shows how often he sides with party whips, “enforcers” who try to ensure that party members vote with official party policy. He’s voted with the Democrats’ whip about 82 percent of the time and with the Republicans’ whip about 58 percent of the time.

How can Republicans and Democrats agree on so many votes? Many votes aren’t controversial. In the last unanimous vote by Republicans and Democrats, for example, the House demanded a new link on the Department of Veterans Affairs’ website. Other bills name post offices. Other votes move bills around the House committees.

Bills that matter more

Instead of looking at votes on all bills, some groups focus on a small number of bills considered to be particularly important. Grant suggested that ratings by the American Conservative Union and Americans for Democratic Action can help put Marshall’s voting record in perspective.

The American Conservative Union gives Marshall a lifetime-in-Congress conservative rating of 45 percent, with scores of 32 and 28 in the last two years. The Americans for Democratic Action gave Marshall a liberal score in Congress that averages 59 percent. Throughout Marshall’s term, he has been given liberal ratings ranging from 35 percent to 70 percent.

Marshall said members of Congress favor rankings from the National Journal. Based on 2009 House votes, the magazine called Marshall the 250th most liberal representative, and the 181st most conservative, of the more than 400 ranked House members.

Scott’s campaign has focused on a few dozen bills. Ray said the campaign is particularly irked at Marshall’s votes for the bank bailout known as TARP, for stimulus funding, to increase the national debt and to vote for major appropriation bills but vote against budgets. Scott is also focused on Marshall’s four votes for Pelosi to lead the House.

Marshall has also drawn criticism for voting against health care reform, with Scott’s campaign saying he should have signed a petition to repeal the largely Democrat-backed measure. Marshall argued in a lengthy piece written for the conservative National Review Online that the old and new systems were both inherently broken. Marshall and Scott both say market-based reforms are needed.

Grant sees more similarities between the two candidates. By Georgia standards, Scott is a moderate Republican, Grant said.

“The reality is they’re just not really different,” he said.

That presents a conundrum for Middle Georgia voters, some of whom have backed Republican presidential candidates but Marshall the Democratic congressional candidate.

“All of those undecideds that are showing up in the polls are probably people who’ve voted for Marshall in the past,” Grant said.

Telegraph staff member Ashe Nelson contributed to this report. To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.

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