United we Stand
by Melissa V.
Another Election year is upon us, and the candidates, no matter their party or the post they are running for, are collectively spending hundreds of millions of dollars, trying to get votes.
They are out there, looking for photo ops, speechifying, muck-raking, and doing all the other things that are traditionally part of the circus that passes for electioneering in this country (and most others.)
With all the noise, how are we supposed to decide who to vote for?
Ignore what they are saying, all of them, and look at their voting records and past accomplishments. No one exists in a vacuum. Even if the candidates for a post haven't been in government before, they have been somewhere, doing something.
Don't believe the ads; listen to them only as a starting place for your own homework. Not just the ads decrying any candidate's opponent, but also the ads boasting about their own accomplishments; because those can also be lies. (As an example, in 2000 Bush boasted about passing a Patient's Bill of Rights. But a few minutes homework showed that he vetoed the law, and never signed it when his veto was over-ridden.)
If you are reading this, you probably have Internet access. And if you have that, it's a very simple matter to cut through the rhetoric, and find out which candidates really stand for what.
First, though, you have to figure out what you stand for. Only then can you hope to vote for someone who will truly represent you. And that, after all, is the purpose of the entire exercise.
So, get out paper and pencil, and write down the top five issues that you care about. (Even if you think that one outweighs all the others. You may change your mind, when you see how the guys are voting.) For me, those are the Environment, Global Affairs, Civil Rights, Education, and the Economy. Write down more, if you can't narrow the list.
Rank them in order of importance to you, in case the candidates are close.
Then fire up your browser, and prepare to find out who stands where.
In this country there are special interest groups that represent nearly any position on nearly any issue. The good thing about that is that these groups almost all have websites. And, among other things, those websites keep scorecards, or report cards, of the way that people in both houses of Congress vote on the issues that are important to them.
If you are already aware of the group that represents your views for a given issue, it's easy. Just look them up. For instance, for civil rights, I'd know to go to the HRC and NAACP.
But if you don't, it's still easy, because any decent search engine can find them for you.
For example, let's check the scorecards for the Environment. Open Google (or whatever search engine you prefer,) and enter the three words "environment", "conservation", and "scorecard' (without quotes.) You'll get about 22,000 hits. The first one when I did it just now was for the League of Conservation Voters. (By the time you read this, something else may be on top.)
As I write this, there's a link to search the scorecard in the middle of the page. Clicking on it brings up a page where you can enter the last name of any Senator or Representative, and see how they voted.
If you enter Kerry, you'll see that his record for the first session of the 108th congress is 53%, which isn't great. But his name is a link to another page that shows his scorecards for the last several years, where he's scored between 92% and 100%. Scrolling down the page shows that he hasn't suddenly started to vote against the Environment; he hasn't been voting at all. (Which you may decide also counts against him; but remember that the purpose is to compare him to his opposition - Bush in this case.)
You can also click the links for each bill in the current session, and see a summary of what it was about, and a map with pop-up windows that show how the senators for each state voted.
If you want more than the summary, you can use the listed numbers for the bill to look it up in its entirety in the Congressional Record.
It's that easy to see where anyone currently in congress really stands. (The actual information available varies from site to site, of course.)
As an example of why it's important to check the records, the Representative for my district, Thaddeus McCotter, claims to be pro-environment. When he was running two years ago, he boasted about his record preserving the Michigan lakes and wetlands. But, if you check his name, he has a 5% on the scorecard.
No matter what he says, he votes against conservation most of the time. It's a matter of public record.
Since people rarely change their positions on any of these issues, it's a pretty safe bet to assume that he's going to continue to do so. So, in the Environment column on my worksheet, he gets 5%, or Poor.
If you do this for each candidate, for each issue that's important to you, it's likely to become obvious which man or woman you, personally, should vote for to represent you.
You can find out the same kinds of information about your state's legislature, by adding the name of your state to the search. Or, if you care more about a particular faction of the whole issue, such as Asian or Hispanic rights, not simply Civil Rights in general, you can add those words to narrow the search as well.
(By the way, if you do this, you'll soon see that, in spite of the sound bytes claiming that there's no difference between the two major parties, the voting consistently tells a different story.)
You can use the same search engine to look for information by entering the name of the candidate, and the issue. For instance, "Thaddeus McCotter" (with quotes) and "conservation" or "John Kerry" and "Civil Rights".
For people who haven't served in public office before, such as Phil Truran (who's running against McCotter) it's harder. In those cases, all you can do is enter the name, and hope for the best; or make arrangements to actually talk to the person. (Which is often possible in the case of local elections, but may be less so for national races.)
Even if the person isn't someone you would want to invite over for dinner, the bottom line is that it's the legislative votes that determine what this nation does. So, really, those votes are the most important thing about electing someone.
Speaking of which, the final, and most important, step is for you to take your list of names, and go to the polls. To paraphrase a slogan; Only you can prevent bad government!