Minnesota's congressional delegation voted along party lines most of the time

  • Article by: KEVIN DIAZ , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 17, 2008 - 9:32 PM

The Congressional Quarterly's annual report found that the delegates sided with their party more often than not.

WASHINGTON - In a polarizing election year that produced President-elect Barack Obama's promise of "post-partisan" politics, Minnesota's congressional delegation remained more divided than most.

With a few exceptions -- notably Republican Sen. Norm Coleman's election-year push to the middle -- Minnesotans in Congress tended to vote along party lines more often than their colleagues across the nation.

Three House Democrats -- Jim Oberstar, Betty McCollum and Keith Ellison -- sided with their party on 99 percent of contested votes. Republicans John Kline and Michele Bachmann voted with the GOP 97 and 96 percent of the time, respectively.

Those calculations come from Congressional Quarterly's annual report, which was released Wednesday. Republicans, on average, voted with their party 87 percent of the time, compared with 92 percent for Democrats, making 2008 one of the most partisan years in Congress, according to the analysis.

Delegation's centrists

Rural Democrat Collin Peterson and retiring Republican Jim Ramstad were, as usual, among the delegation's leading centrists. But Coleman distinguished himself among Senate Republicans by ranking fourth in casting votes in opposition to President Bush. On votes where the White House had a clearly defined position, he voted in opposition nearly 42 percent of the time.

Overall, Coleman posted a party unity score of 69 percent, far below the 94 percent score of his Democratic counterpart, Amy Klobuchar.

Coleman, like a lot of Republicans in tough reelection battles, moved away from Bush on a number of high-profile measures, most recently in opposing the administration's $14 billion bailout plan for the ailing auto industry.

Klobuchar, like virtually the entire state delegation, cast her voting record as one that puts a premium on bipartisanship and putting Minnesota first. Her spokesman, Linden Zakula, said she is "focused on an agenda that is good for Minnesota and that works for the middle class."

In the House, those members in the safest seats are least apologetic about their partisan voting records. "My voting record is not a reflection of what the leadership of the Democratic caucus wants, it's a reflection on my views on the issues," said Ellison, a Minneapolis Democrat.

Reflection on White House

McCollum suggested that her 99 percent party unity score is a reflection on the White House. "During this Congress, Democrats worked with the most uncompromising, polarizing and unpopular president in modern times," she said.

John Schadl, a spokesman for Oberstar, said he helped engineer a bipartisan veto override on a far-reaching bill funding water projects: "The real question is whether he was able to work in a bipartisan manner to get things done. And the answer is yes."

House members in more competitive districts took a different line. Stephen Miller, a spokesman for Bachmann, noted that while she has "stood steadfast against the Democratic controlled Congress," she opposed the Bush administration's $700 billion Wall Street bailout.

And while Kline led the delegation by supporting Bush 77 percent of the time, spokesman, Troy Young said, "Congressman Kline votes with Minnesotans 100 percent of the time."

Walz, from an independent-leaning district in southern Minnesota, voted with fellow Democrats 96 percent of the time and against Bush 86 percent of the time. But according to spokeswoman Meredith Salsbery, he "believes that good policy is good policy, no matter which side of the aisle gets credit."

Besides Coleman, the only Minnesotan with a party unity record of less than 90 percent was Ramstad, who ended his career voting with his own side 70 percent of the time. "This is who I am," he said. "I'm a centrist, and so are most of the people I represent."

Staff writer Mitch Anderson contributed to this report. Kevin Diaz • 202-408-2753

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