Obama voting record in Illinois well to the left of own party
Sen. Barack Obama portrayed himself Aug. 28 as an agent of change for mainstream America, but his eight-year voting record in the Illinois Senate shows the Democrat was on occasion an agent of isolation who took stands — particularly on anti-crime legislation — that put him to the left of his own party.
Mr. Obama was the only member of the state Senate to vote against a bill to prohibit the early release of convicted criminal sexual abusers; was among only four who voted against bills to toughen criminal sentences and to increase penalties for “gangbangers” and dealers of Ecstasy; and voted “present” on a bill making it harder for abusive parents to regain custody of their children, a Washington Times review of Illinois legislative records shows.
“On the one hand, I give him credit for being true to his beliefs. But certainly with concerns that there were, even for his own party in Illinois, he would be to the left on some of those key votes,” said Illinois state Sen. Dave Syverson, a conservative Republican.
The pattern has continued since Mr. Obama joined the U.S. Senate, according to National Journal magazine.
Its respected legislative scorecard rated the Illinois Democrat, based on his 2007 voting record, as the most liberal member of the Senate, even more liberal than Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont, a self-described “democratic socialist.” Mr. Obama ranked No. 16 and No. 10 in the previous two years.
His running mate, Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, ranked third in the 2007 National Journal survey, with only Sen. Edward M. Kennedy between him and Mr. Obama.
Mr. Obama’s left-leaning pedigree has concerned some of his party’s moderate and conservative members. Rep. Dan Boren of Oklahoma has publicly refused to endorse Mr. Obama, describing the presumptive presidential nominee as the “most liberal senator” on Capitol Hill.
“I think this is an important time for our country,” Mr. Boren has told reporters. “We’re facing a terrible economic downturn. We have high gasoline prices. We have problems in our foreign policy. That’s why I think it’s important.”
Although Mr. Obama has talked about working with Republicans, Mr. Boren said, “unfortunately, his record does not reflect working in a bipartisan fashion.”
Mr. Boren, however, said he plans to support the Democratic ticket on Election Day and will celebrate if his party succeeds in seating the first black president.
The Obama campaign has dismissed concerns about their candi- date’s voting record and accused Republicans of trying to “distract, deflect and distort” the record by improperly characterizing votes he cast on several issues, including hot-button criminal justice matters.
The campaign said Mr. Obama was a “strong proponent of tougher measures to fight crime,” such as supporting efforts to increase funding and support for local law enforcement.
His aides said Mr. Obama sponsored laws to remove the statute of limitations for first-degree murder and to extend the statute of limitations for sexual assault; to protect victims of domestic violence; to increase penalties on drunken drivers and white-collar criminals; and to protect victims’ rights.
They also said Mr. Obama has worked on legislation to crack down on sex offenders and drug dealers, and repeatedly voted to lengthen sentences for criminals.
Some Obama critics point to his opposition to the Illinois version of bills to protect babies who were born alive after botched attempts at abortions, requiring a doctor to assist any child who survived.
In 2001, Illinois lawmakers offered three such bills and Mr. Obama voted “present” on each of them, arguing that under the Equal Protection Clause, the proposed laws would “essentially bar abortions.” A year later, he voted “no” on the reoffered bills.
In 2003, after Mr. Obama be- came chairman of the State Health and Human Services Committee, a new bill was referred to this committee but lost in a 6-4 vote and was never sent to the Senate floor for a full vote. Mr. Obama, according to state records, voted against that bill.
Mr. Obama’s opposition to such a law put him the minority of his own party nationally.
The federal version — the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act, which guaranteed that liveborn infants are afforded full legal rights under federal law, regardless of their stage of development or whether their live births occurred during an abortion — passed the House by a 380-15 vote on Sept. 26, 2000. It was killed later that year in the Senate.
The legislation was reintroduced and passed the House on March 12, 2002, by a voice vote, On July 18, 2002, it cleared the Senate by unanimous consent. President Bush signed the bill into law on Aug. 5, 2002.
“This important legislation ensures that every infant born alive — including an infant who survives an abortion procedure — is considered a person under federal law,” Mr. Bush said at the time. “Today, through sonograms and other technology, we can see clearly that unborn children are members of the human family, as well.”
Billing himself on the 2008 presidential campaign trail as the law-and-order candidate who consistently supported and voted for bills aimed at strengthening the nation’s criminal justice system, Mr. Obama doesn’t mention several votes from his eight years in the Illinois state Senate that Republicans are determined to use to paint a different picture.
On numerous occasions, according to a compilation of his state legislative votes, Mr. Obama voted “present,” “no” or not at all when several major crime bills were offered.
The records also show Mr. Obama voted “no” on a bill allowing police officers to execute warrants and enter buildings without knocking if there was a reasonable belief a weapon would be used against them; voted “present” on legislation requiring that minors who commit gun crimes on or near a school be prosecuted as adults; and did not vote on a bill requiring fingerprint background checks on school bus drivers.
Mr. Obama was the only member of the state Senate to vote against a bill to prohibit the early release of convicted criminal sexual abusers; and was among only four who voted against bills to toughen criminal sentences, increase penalties for criminals whose offenses were committed in the furtherance of gang activities, and increase penalties for the delivery of Ecstasy and other designer drugs.