The more I think of this race, the more I think Burner might be the right candidate in the right place at the right time.
That’s the message I want to take away from Joni Balter’s column today in the Seattle Times. [Can Burner bushwhack Reichert?]
I want to thank Balter for recognizing and corroborating what us bloggers have been saying for months… that Darcy Burner is mounting a surprisingly strong challenge to first-term Republican Rep. Dave Reichert in Washington’s 8th Congressional District, and that Reichert himself appears to be weaker than anybody had expected this time last year. I want to acknowledge Balter for acknowledging that this is a race that’s simply too close to call.
But I just can’t get past her second paragraph:
Reichert may not be the sharpest pencil in the backpack, but he has charisma to bottle and sell. More important, in his first term he distinguished himself as an independent thinker.
Well… I’ll give Balter the first clause of the first sentence. And while I’ve never understood the supposed charms of the silver-haired, leaden-tongued ex-Sheriff I’ll grant that the second clause seems to be the consensus. It’s the second sentence that makes me want to tear out what little hair I have left.
Reichert an “independent thinker?” Gimme a break.
In truth, neither of the two words apply, but it’s the adjective “independent” when applied to Reichert that particularly gives me heartburn. The fact that Reichert keeps claiming he’s “independent” and the fact that columnists like Balter keep repeating it uncritically just doesn’t make it so. But despite the fact that evidence to contrary keeps piling up — and despite the fact that Reichert himself has publicly boasted that the House GOP leadership tells him when to vote against them — the damn newspapers keep writing about Reichert’s supposed moderation.
So Reichert voted against the GOP’s self-righteous and politically cruel Terri Schiavo bill because he himself had already gone through the painful personal decisions surrounding a loved one’s end of life. So he can feel a little empathy. Good for him. Though I’m not sure we should always count on our representatives to have personal experiences to guide them through every contentious vote.
But apart from the Schiavo bill (a vote, by the way, that surely had no political downside in his home district) Reichert has never cast a vote against the House leadership or the Bush administration when it really counted. As Daniel Kirkdorffer has meticulously detailed at On the Road to 2008, the bulk of Reichert’s so-called “moderate” votes — those times he voted with the majority of House Democrats — came on procedural roll calls on issues of broad bipartisan agreement. And the handful of times he went against his party’s leadership on contentious issues, the final count was never so close that Reichert came near casting the deciding vote.
Take Reichert’s supposed opposition to drilling in ANWR, a vote Reichert once described as one he’s most proud of. Balter echoes the party line:
Reichert represents his district admirably on a few environmental issues by opposing drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in certain votes.
Yeah sure, Reichert opposed drilling in ANWR in “certain votes.” You know… those that didn’t really count. But after casting several high profile votes against drilling in roll calls that were never close enough to make a difference, Reichert voted for the final appropriations bill that included the drilling provision.
Way to save ANWR, Dave.
Look, I don’t expect Balter or any other paid journalist to be as biased as I am, but it would be nice to occasionally see a little consistency. The local media just spent a week cynically deconstructing the internal workings of the Cantwell campaign, and yet they continue to naively take Reichert’s voting record at face value… even when he publicly instructs his conservative base not to.
Is Reichert anywhere close to being the most conservative member of Congress? Well, that would be kinda hard. There are some real nutcases in the House and apart from Reichert’s fairly staunch opposition to reproductive rights (um… all of them) he doesn’t really exude much passion on any other issue. Yet when push comes to shove he has proven himself to be a reliable vote on behalf of the administration… which is exactly the reason why President Bush flew cross-country to raise money for Reichert in the first place.
When you put Reichert’s “yeas” and “nays” in context, he just doesn’t come off as much of an “independent thinker.” But then sometimes, neither do Balter and her colleagues.