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What does my congressman stand for?

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The National Political Awareness Test, an undertaking of Project Vote-Smart, asks one fundamental question of national candidates: “Are you willing to demonstrate a good faith effort to provide voters with your inclinations on the issues you will most likely face on the citizen’s behalf?”

My freshman District 29 (N.Y.) representative in Congress, Republican John R. “Randy” Kuhl (a member of the 2004 class), did not submit a response to the NPAT, according to Project Vote-Smart. (See the 2004 congressional NPAT.)

The 2004 NPAT sought Kuhl’s positions on abortion; budgetary, spending and tax issues; defense spending; campaign finance and government reform issues; crime, drug and education issues; employment and affirmative action issues; environment and energy issues; gun, health and immigration issues; international aid, international trade and policy issues; Social Security issues; technology and communication issues; and welfare and poverty issues. The NPAT also asked him to list, in 75 words, two or three legislative priorities.

I don’t know why Rep. Kuhl would wish to deny his constituents — the people who elected him — his understanding of and positions on these issues. After all, he or his staff has posted on his House web site statements about many of these issues.

Then again, the positions on his web site tend to be vague and platitudinous. The NPAT survey questions are precise and nuanced. Should I conclude that Rep. Kuhl 1) does not have a position on the issues, 2) has positions but does not wish to clearly specify them because he wishes to remain flexible or 3) is merely waiting for the House Republican leadership to tell him what positions he ought to take, regardless of what would best serve his constituents?

The NPAT would require him to actually declare positions that can be agreed with or challenged in full and fair public debate in full view of his constituents.

But that’s not the way democracy works any more, is it? Positions on issues don’t count. Money does.

Rep. Kuhl raised a little more than $998,000 to best his Democratic challenger in 2004 in a large rural district with only about 333,000 people. To his credit, 43 percent of that money was raised from “individuals.” (See Kuhl’s election finances at opensecret.org. for 2004 and 2005-6)

But in the 2005-6 election cycle, PACs are spending heavily on the now-incumbent Rep. Kuhl — of the nearly $500,000 he’s raised, 77 percent comes from PACs. (See the list.) Of that money, about half comes from single-issue or ideological PACs — Republican, Conservative, gun rights, etc.

In one sense, Rep. Kuhl does not need to complete an NPAT. In this heavily Republican district, he can perhaps assume his supporters know where he stands. But watching where his war-chest money comes from, I now fully understand where he stands and with whom he stands.

If he continues to be less than precise in his pronouncements of positions to his constituents, he’s not likely to get my vote in the 2006 mid-term election. Congress has too many pols for whom money does the talking. And that’s as sad as it is dangerous to the idea of good government.

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Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

January 20, 2006 at 12:21 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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