Shuler shows that he will vote his conscience

Those who supported Heath Shuler’s bid to represent this region in Congress probably did not believe the detractors who spent most of the last election harping about how he would become Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s lapdog once he arrived in Washington. Well, a recent study of voting trends in this Congress reveals Shuler as one of the most independent congressmen in the House. That description is almost a badge of honor in the highly charged partisan atmosphere that currently rules in our nation’s capital., which is affiliated with the respected Congressional Quarterly, recently analyzed the votes of members of the House to see how often they strayed from the party line. Shuler got a “party unity” score of 82.9 percent — the fourth lowest of any Democrat in the House. As a whole, Democrats averaged a party unity rating of 96 percent. According to the, researchers looked at votes that were most likely to pit Republicans and Democrats against each other.

The analysis revealed that Shuler is one of the young, somewhat conservative Democrats who swept into office during the last election. Of the lowest 25 scores among Democrats, 12 came from freshman who, like Shuler, were elected in districts that were previously held by Republicans and which supported George Bush for president in 2004 (Bush beat John Kerry in the 11th District by a 57 to 43 percent margin in the 2004 election). Congressman Charles Taylor, R-Brevard, held the 11th Congressional District seat for 16 years before Shuler unseated him in 2006.

What does this mean for voters? Well, it certainly shows that Shuler is setting himself up as his own man among his peers. Cynics will argue that the Democrats in power are simply giving Shuler a long leash to help ensure he will get re-elected in 2008. One could also argue, however, that the conservative side of Shuler is exactly what he presented to voters during the election, and now he’s fulfilling that promise.

Shuler talks proudly of his membership in the blue dog Democrat coalition. This group of conservative to moderate Democrats preaches fiscal austerity and are moderate on social issues. Many left-leaning Democrats will disagree with some of those votes that Shuler has cast. He voted against a bill to promote embryonic stem cell research, which we think should have passed. He also voted against a bill to classify some violent offenses as hate crimes.

At this early stage in Shuler’s tenure in Congress, however, we think his independence is admirable. Most Americans are probably more centrist than the political leaders we read about and listen to on the talk shows. Party leaders tend to lean way left or way right. We much prefer a congressman who votes his conscience instead of toeing blindly to a party line, no matter which party that might be.

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