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Friday, December 4, 2009

SHS Triangulation Fails; Nelson Argues Procedural Votes

South Dakota Congresswoman Stephanie Herseth Sandlin has pursued a strategy this year of voting against key issues pushed by the Democratic leadership in Washington. Her votes against energy security legislation, credit card reform, student loan reform and Pell Grant expansion, health care reform all appear calculated to buy SHS (like other Blue Dog Democrats) political cover as they run for re-election in conservative districts.

While SHS tries to peel off the Pelosi label, challenger Chris Nelson is showing the strategy the GOP will use to stick that label right back on. Here's candidate Nelson addressing voters between trips through the buffet line at JoDean's (and I'll take meat and potatoes at JoDean's over fake rage at a Tea Party any day!) in Yankton:

“Our incumbent representative comes back to South Dakota and she says, ‘I voted against all that,’” Nelson said. “But what she doesn’t tell us is the same day those bills were on the floor, she voted ‘yes’ to put those bills on the floor. ...

“The incumbent has successfully … painted a picture of a fiscal conservative,” Nelson said. “That picture is starting to blur. People are starting to look at the voting record, and that’s my mission over the next year: to make sure people look at the voting record” [Travis Gulbrandson, "Nelson Pledges Fiscal Change, Smaller Gov't," Yankton Press and Dakotan, 2009.12.03].
I can see the campaign ads now: grim music, black screen, alarmed and husky female voice instilling fear as a long list of arcane House roll call votes scroll by in stark white text (preferably a grainy X-Files font), then end with as unflattering photos of Herseth and Pelosi flipping in from the sides, growing and merging in the background.

You shouldn't buy it. Holding procedural votes against a legislator is at best disingenuous. SHS can make the very reasonable case that voting to put a bill on the floor is a vote to give people a chance to discuss it, amend it, and make it better. It's a chance to educate the public. It's allowing the process to move forward in the most open and democratic way.

Legislators can also vote to bring an amendment or a bill to the floor as a way to call a bluff, as Rep. Anthony Weiner did in committee this summer when he proposed an amendment to H.R. 3200 that would have ended Medicare. No one seriously argues that Weiner actually wanted to kill Medicare: he ultimately voted against his own amendment. But he offered the amendment to illustrate the hypocrisy of Republican rhetoric about government-run health insurance.

Ultimately the vote that matters is the final vote to pass. SHS can make that case. The problem is, that is the very case that voting against Pelosi was supposed to save her from having to make in the first place! Not only have those nays not spared her that argument, she now has to make a more complicated argument to inattentive voters about the procedural votes that will leave her sounding like John Kerry in reverse: I voted against it after I was for it!

And just to ice the cake—or spill coffee on it—SHS has to make the additional case to disgruntled Dems like me that she really serves South Dakota best by not voting like a Democrat on the big issues.

Now Stephanie, really, wouldn't it have been easier to just vote Dem in the first place and lead the debate?


  1. Cory,

    What is really "fake" is the man-made global warming scientists.

  2. Somehow I'm finding it very hard to get enthused about the Federal races.. I mean really - Herseth vs Nelson? I need to go take an analgesic...

    Now statewide, it could be a lot more interesting... Scott Heidepreim and Nesselhuf... and the fact that Rounds' nepotismic reign will be over soon.


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