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Is Betty Sutton a moderate? An independent? A populist?

Ohio Congressional Districts 2009I’ve never met Congresswoman Betty Sutton, my Representative here in Ohio’s 13th District. Every time I hear her on the radio or see her on TV, she comes across as a mild-mannered, pleasant person. I am convinced that she truly believes she’s doing what’s best for America. If she and I found ourselves at the same dinner table I’m confident that we could chat easily and cheerily about the travails of the Cleveland Browns, the latest news of our respective families, and what works best for keeping rabbits and deer out of a flower bed. I have absolutely no reason to think ill of her personally, and I’ll bet she’s a loving wife, a sweet daughter, a good neighbor, and a responsible and caring pet owner.
Betty Sutton is also a radical leftist.
To put her views in context, first go take a look at her very close friend and trusted colleague Jan Schakowsky. No, really. Go look, and then come back here.

Now that you’ve gotten an overview of Jan Schakowsky’s well-deserved reputation for hair-on-fire left wing nuttiness, it’s time to compare her to our sitting Congresswoman.
Judging by her campaign site’s issues page, Betty would like you to believe she’s just a regular small town gal:

Standing up for the Middle Class
“I know that in these tough times, my most important job is getting Ohio back to work. There is more to be done to get our economy back on track, but it is time to put working Americans first to ensure Northeast Ohio’s small businesses, jobs seekers and manufacturers get a fair shake.”
Fighting for our Veterans
“Thank you to the men and women who have bravely served our country. We have an obligation to honor their sacrifice, both while in service and long after they return. As the daughter of a World War II veteran, the highest honor I have received was Legislator of the Year from the Ohio AMVETS for my service to our veterans.”
Standing Up for Seniors
“Social Security and Medicare are covenants between the government and Americas’ seniors, who have dedicated their lives to building our communities and our nation. These are commitments we are obligated to honor.”
Standing up for Women
“As a United States Congresswoman, a State Legislator in the Ohio House of Representatives, and as an attorney, I have always stood up for the rights of women and girls. Whether itʼs stronger anti-domestic violence laws, fairness in our health care system, protecting reproductive rights or demanding fairness in the workplace and from corporations, I will always take on the right fight.”

Nice words, to be sure. But since when do Ohioans take any politician’s statements at face value? To properly judge what she’s trying to sell you, compare Betty’s voting record with those of Jan Schakowsky and John Shadegg. Shadegg’s a retiring Republican member of the House of Representatives from Arizona. He’s universally regarded as a conservative’s conservative. He and Jan Schakowsky will typically end up on opposite sides of just about any issue you can think of, so we can imagine their voting records as opposing goalposts on the football field of politics. Betty Sutton cultivates her image as a moderate “populist” Democrat who spends her days near the 50 yard line, but it’s nothing more than an image. It’s a sham.
First, look at the highly respected National Journal rankings of conservatives and liberals in the U.S. House for 2009.

National Journal 2009 Rankings
Liberal % Liberal Rank Conservative Rank Conservative %
Jan Schakowski (D-IL) 95.2 1/435 423/435 4.8
Betty Sutton (D-OH) 88.7 35/435 394/435 11.3
John Shadegg (R-AZ) 6.0 425/435 1/435 94.0

The numbers reveal how Sutton’s far-left voting record mirrors Schakowsky’s, but numbers alone lack punch. Besides, these calculations come from just a single publication; the National Journal’s reputation for fair play might not be enough to convince an independent (or a conservative Democrat) leaning toward Sutton to reconsider. Something more visual would be helpful, and preferably from another source.
Using the VoteMatch score generated by
Sutton, Schakowski, and Shadegg relative philosophies

Schakowsky Sutton Shadegg Clinton Reagan

… Jan Schakowsky lands squarely in “hard-core liberal” territory, while John Shadegg sits firmly in the “hard-core conservative” camp. Neither result surprises anyone, but this result might: Betty Sutton is also a “hard core liberal.” For a useful comparison, look at Bill Clinton (“moderate liberal“) and Ronald Reagan (“populist-leaning conservative“). If you’re wondering why there’s no dot for Barack Obama (“hard-core liberal“), the reason is simple. It sits in exactly the same spot as Betty Sutton’s dot.
Next, take a look at how the site OpenCongress compares Representatives. Based on U.S. House voting records, a generic Democrat and a generic Republican vote together 44% of the time. Further, Democrats in the House average out to a 94% voting similarity, while Republicans agree 86% of the time. What you see in the clickable image below is not normal.
Sutton, Schakowski, and Shadegg

Schakowsky-Sutton Sutton-Shadegg Schakowsky-Shadegg

Are you beginning to see the pattern? Try the GovTrack political spectrum on for size (you’ll have to scroll left & right):
Where do Congressmen fit?
Now try the Congressional Quarterly Vote Studies Tool (thanks for the idea, Jesse).

Congressional Quarterly has analyzed the roll call voting patterns of members of Congress since 1953. The three principal studies involve:

  • The frequency with which lawmakers vote with the president when he clearly indicates his preferences (Presidential Support).
  • The frequency with which they vote with their party, on occasions when a majority of Republicans oppose a majority of Democrats (Party Unity).
  • And the frequency with which they show up and cast “yea” or “nay” votes (Voting Participation).

This interactive graphic shows 2009 Party Unity, Presidential Support and Voting Participation scores for individual lawmakers in office at the close of the session. Scores are based on the 397 roll-call votes cast in the Senate, and 991 roll-call votes cast in the House (the House also conducted four recorded quorum calls so far this year).

Scatterplot of the U.S. House with Betty Sutton identifiedIn my snapshot of the CQ results seen here, I’ve added two shaded bars to match the dots to the ideological spectrum for each party as revealed by their members’ voting records, and I added an arrow pointing to Betty Sutton. She is neither moderate, centrist, nor independent; she’s an extremely liberal progressive.
I’m not the only one who’s looked at Betty Sutton’s voting record and found it completely out of touch with our values here in the 13th District. Buckeye RINO compared her record to the other members of Ohio’s delegation and found that she has much more in common with Nancy Pelosi than with her fellow Buckeyes. His post is a must-read.
I point all this out at Betty Sutton’s own request. She asks us to judge her on her record, of which she’s extremely proud. Yes, she’s nice. Yes, she has a friendly smile and a warm demeanor. Yes, she’s very good at projecting the image of a caring, compassionate public servant. Yes, she’s very sincere. But stop for a moment and do what she asks of you. Set aside what she says, and look at what she’s done. Ask yourself this:
“Does Betty Sutton’s record reflect my morals, values, concerns, and interests? How likely is she to change the way she does business in Washington? Do I want to give her two more years to push her radical San Francisco-style agenda?”