Daily Revolt

December 20, 2007

Obama’s Vote in Illinois Was Often Just ‘Present’

If is important to ask what kind of legislator Obama has been, not whether his middle name is Hussein:
In 1999, Barack Obama was faced with a difficult vote in the Illinois legislature — to support a bill that would let some juveniles be tried as adults, a position that risked drawing fire from African-Americans, or to oppose it, possibly undermining his image as a tough-on-crime moderate.

In the end, Mr. Obama chose neither to vote for nor against the bill. He voted “present,” effectively sidestepping the issue, an option he invoked nearly 130 times as a state senator.

Sometimes the “present’ votes were in line with instructions from Democratic leaders or because he objected to provisions in bills that he might otherwise support. At other times, Mr. Obama voted present on questions that had overwhelming bipartisan support. In at least a few cases, the issue was politically sensitive.

The record has become an issue on the presidential campaign trail, as Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, his chief rival for the Democratic nomination, has seized on the present votes he cast on a series of anti-abortion bills to portray Mr. Obama as a “talker” rather than a “doer.”

[...]“If you are worried about your next election, the present vote gives you political cover,” said Kent D. Redfield, a professor of political studies at the University of Illinois at Springfield. “This is an option that does not exist in every state and reflects Illinois political culture.”

Behaving just like a typical politician:
State Senator Christine Radogno, a Republican, was a co-sponsor of the bill to let children as young as 15 be prosecuted as adults if charged with committing a crime with a firearm on or near school grounds.

The measure passed both houses overwhelmingly. In explaining his present vote on the floor of the Senate, Mr. Obama said there was no proof that increasing penalties for young offenders reduced crime, though he acknowledged that the bill had fairly unanimous support.

“Voting present was a way to satisfy those two competing interests,” Ms. Radogno said in a telephone interview.

Thom Mannard, director of the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence, said political calculation could have figured in that vote.

“If he voted a flat-out no,” Mr. Mannard said, “somebody down the road could say Obama took this vote and was soft on crime.”

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