National Journal report paints Sam Farr as most ideological member of Democrats

By Yousur Alhlou

WASHINGTON – What do Rep. Sam Farr, D-Carmel Valley, and House Republican whip Kevin McCarthy have in common?

Both California representatives rank among the most ideological members of their party according to a newly released report by the National Journal, a nonpartisan Washington publication.

The rankings highlight the divisive politics gripping Washington, where the ideological overlap between the two largest parties is increasingly diminishing.

Few places are as polarized as California, where 26 Democrats are listed among the chamber’s 100 most liberal members, and six Republicans are listed among the 100 most conservative.

Only nine of the state’s 53 representatives – six Republicans and three Democrats – are regarded as centrists, a breed of politician that is increasingly rare.

Santa Cruz lawmakers lean heavily to the left, like the majority of California members.

Farr ties for 71st most liberal nationwide and Democratic Rep. Anna Eshoo ranks 62nd, with more than eight out of 10 of their votes regarded as liberal.

Democratic Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein are among the most liberal in the Senate. Boxer ties as the fifth most liberal senator while Feinstein follows at 15th.

The National Journal analyzed 105 House votes and 97 Senate votes to calculate the rankings.

Members of Congress, despite the negative connotations of partisanship, make no apologies for their ideologically leaning votes. Rep. Judy Chu, who was one of 19 Democrats – including seven Californians – to be ranked as the House’s most liberal, said her constituency is well aware, and in support of, her platform.

“To the extent that my votes can be characterized as ‘party line,’ it’s because (my party) pursues policies that benefit average Americans and address issues that are important to my district,” Chu said.

California’s delegation has historically had a difficult time working together, said Dan Schnur, a former GOP strategist and Director of the Jesse Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California.

“(If) 53 members of the House all voted together on an issue, they’d have almost one quarter of the votes they need to pass a bill,” Schnur said.

Overall, eight California House Democrats rank among the top 25 most liberal members nationwide and two House Republicans rank in the top 25 most conservative.

California’s delegation ranks as the 12th most liberal nationwide.

Senate politics reflect a similar trend of ideological polarization. For the third time since 1987 – when National Journal first produced their rankings – every Democrat ranked to the left of every Republican.

Schnur pins polarization on redistricting and voter mobility, but also faults party leadership for demanding more loyalty from their members.

“A party leader can withhold financial support from a candidate who doesn’t come through on key votes,” Schnur said. “(Centrists) simply don’t exist anymore because the party leadership isn’t willing to support them.”

Late last month, Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine, a Republican, announced her retirement, citing the pervasive “my way or the highway ideologies” that define Washington. Snowe, who is serving her third term, is ranked eighth closest to the ideological center.

California Rep. David Dreier, a Republican who has served in the House for more than three decades, also announced last month he would not seek re-election.

“Differences demand a passionate debate, but that debate must ultimately arrive at consensus,” Drier said in a public statement.

Thomas Mann, a senior fellow at Democratic-leaning Brookings Institute who recently authored a book on the politics of extremism, argues that the polarization leans far to the right because Republicans have adopted a more radical agenda.

Mann added that party polarization is in large part due to voters, who have “sorted themselves ideologically” into one party or moved to areas with like-minded citizens.

Polarized politics was apparent in a recent highly partisan vote on a California water issue affecting the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Every California Republican voted in favor of the bill, despite a White House veto threat.

Similarly, 32 Democratic lawmakers urged House Speaker John Boehner to repeal his transportation bill, which would have coupled mass transit spending with offshore oil drilling. No Republican spoke out in opposition.

Politicians and voters alike are overwhelmingly dissatisfied with Congress and say they support the idea of compromise, but often the sentiment extends only if the other side backs down.

Pressure to control partisan politics was behind the creation of a citizen’s commission to redraw California’s congressional lines. The new boundaries are expected to create more competitive races – where one party does not have advantage over the other – and increase the chances for more centrist candidates to emerge.

“There might not be a huge ideological overhaul this year but over the course of a decade, you’re certainly going to see more centrists elected to Congress,” Schnur said.

The California News Service is a journalism project of the University of California Washington Center and the UC Berkeley School of Journalism. Email the California News Service at cns@ucdc.edu

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: