Some House members seeking higher offices miss '06 votes

Reps. Jim Davis (D-Fla.) and Butch Otter (R-Idaho) are both running for governor. Davis has missed 152 votes in 2006; Otter has missed 3.

They are among 16 members of the House that are running for a higher office this year. Statewide campaigns require time, money, and a great deal of energy. For some House members, it also leads to a lot of missed votes.

The 16 congressmen have missed an average of 50 floor votes in 2006. Rep. Harold Ford (D-Tenn.), who is running for the Senate, has been absent on 113 votes while Rep. Jim Nussle (R-Iowa), who is in a tight race for governor, has missed 110 votes.

Davis last week won the Democratic primary and hopes to replace term-limited Jeb Bush as governor of the Sunshine State. 

Josh Ernest, the campaign’s communications director, said, “[Davis] has worked very hard to balance his responsibilities as a member of Congress and his responsibilities as a state-wide candidate in Florida …. Over the course of his 10-year career in Congress, his attendance record is 93 percent.” 

When such a significant focus is placed on the campaign for the next office, missed votes can often resurface as political liabilities. In the 2004 presidential election, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and John Edwards (D-N.C.) were consistently criticized for missing votes on the Senate floor in favor of holding campaign events across the nation.

Already in 2006, Ford has been criticized for spending too much time away from D.C. as he battles to be the next Senator from Tennessee. In early July, the Tennessee Republican Party released a statement highlighting Ford’s missed votes: “No respected employer would hire someone like Ford, who has a history of not showing up for work. I predict Tennessee voters will follow suit.”

But the move backfired when further research showed that former Rep. Van Hilleary (R-Tenn.), who recently lost to Bob Corker in the Senate GOP primary in Tennessee, had missed more votes than Ford when he unsuccessfully ran for governor in 2002.

Otter has tried to avoid these problems by focusing on his duties in the House, saying, “If you do your best with the task at hand, folks tend to give you the benefit of the doubt when you ask for a promotion. My commitment to constituents has always been that representing them in Congress would remain my first priority, and it has.”

However, Otter – unlike Davis — faced minimal opposition in his primary.

A pair of Republican congressmen has taken a more nuanced position in attempting to balance campaign necessities with the duties of serving in the House. Mark Green (R-Wis.) and Mark Kennedy (R-Minn.) knew that they needed to spend considerable time on the campaign trail in order to win this fall, and would inevitably miss votes. They have volunteered to return the salary that they would have earned for each day’s worth of votes that they miss.

Both Green and Kennedy had stellar voting records in 2005. Green missed only seven and Kennedy missed none, being one of nine members to make every vote. While Kennedy has missed 20 votes in 2006, his office emphasizes that only 4 were missed because of campaigning. 

Some of the 16 candidates running for higher office did not comment for this article.

Others were upfront. Gerry Fritz, spokeswoman for Rep. Katherine Harris’s (R-Fla.), said, “She certainly tries to make as many votes as she can … [but] the campaign for Senate is the priority.”

Harris is leaving the House in the long hopes of unseating Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.).
 
Amy Sherman contributed to this report.