It’s not as easy to judge a congressional member’s voting record as it seems. As Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D, gears up for her re-election campaign, she’s touting her independent voting record as a reason to give her a second term.
Heitkamp ranked second for voting against her party last year during the 115th Congress, according to the watchdog website ProPublica. She voted against her party 22.5 percent of the time, topped only by Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., at 26.5 percent. Heitkamp and Manchin have often worked together in the Senate on legislation.
At the same time, Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., ranked first in the Senate for voting most consistently with his party. Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., voted against the Republicans about 3 percent of the time. He ranked ranked 371st out of 433 members of the House.
Heitkamp argues her voting record demonstrates her willingness to do what’s best for North Dakotans. She says she’ll buck Democratic leadership if legislation isn’t favorable to the state. Hoeven says his record reflects the fact that the Republican agenda benefits North Dakotans and state residents support the agenda. There’s no doubt North Dakota is a Republican state. The GOP holds all state offices, dominates the Legislature and has two of the three congressional seats. The state also voted for Donald Trump for president.
Heitkamp won her seat after a tight race with then-Rep. Rick Berg. She’s expected to have a close contest this year no matter who challenges her. Sen. Tom Campbell, R-Grafton, a farmer and businessman, has been running hard for the Republican nomination. Many expect Cramer to enter the race in the next few weeks. Trump has publicly encouraged Cramer to challenge Heitkamp.
So what do our delegation’s voting records mean? While Hoeven and Cramer, to a lesser degree, follow the party line, Heitkamp has been more independent. She can’t go 100 percent Democrat when voting if she wanted to. It’s doubtful most North Dakotans would find that acceptable. She obviously weighs her votes -- she split her votes when it came to Trump’s Cabinet nominees. She also sided with the Democrats on some major issues. She voted against the tax bill and fought to save the Affordable Care Act, though she argued the ACA needed to be reworked.
She drew a lot of criticism last summer when she voted against repealing the BLM Waste Prevention rule. The Senate vote was 51-49 and her opponents described her as casting the deciding vote. The rule is intended to require oil and gas companies to avoid wasting methane that is flared on federal and tribal land.
Heitkamp has been a moderate, some Democrats would say conservative, when voting in the Senate. Whether North Dakotans like her willingness to vary her votes could be a deciding factor in the election.
It’s a lot easier for Hoeven and Cramer to defend following the GOP agenda than it is for Heitkamp to explain her varying votes.
Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., who ranked second for voting against his party, said, "You probably have about 90 percent of the House that votes party-line. You might as well send a robot out here."
If it becomes a Heitkamp-Cramer race for the Senate, North Dakotans will have to decide whether their voting records reflect independence based on judging issues or following a Republican program that’s beneficial to North Dakota. The same would hold true for a Heitkamp-Campbell race since Campbell promises to follow Trump’s agenda.
Whatever happens should be interesting.