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Analysis: Congressman Bob Filner has spent a lot of time in San Diego running for mayor over the past 16 months. He’s danced at Zumba classes in Barrio Logan, hung out with longshoremen at the port and even pedaled through Little Italy and Old Town on a bike tour.
That means he’s spent less time in Washington, D.C.
A political action committee that supports Filner’s opponent, City Councilman Carl DeMaio, recently made an issue of Filner’s absenteeism, releasing a television ad critical of Filner’s missed votes while in Congress.
“Sadly, Bob Filner has one of the worst attendance records in Congress,” the narrator intones at the start of the ad. “Missed nearly 60 percent of the votes this year alone.”
Research confirms both claims.
In 2012, Filner missed 353 out of 602 votes in Congress, or 59 percent, according to figures from congressional research website GovTrack.Us. That’s good enough to make the ad’s claim of “nearly 60 percent” True.
The ad also claims that Filner has “one of the worst attendance records in Congress.” DeMaio himself upped the ante in a press conference Thursday, contending that Filner has the most missed votes of any member of the House of Representatives this year.
Filner has missed 68 more votes than Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), who’s second, according to data provided by DeMaio’s campaign.
The television ad doesn’t specify a timeframe for Filner’s attendance, so we also examined Filner’s voting over his entire career. He’s missed about 7 percent of the 13,375 votes taken during his 19-year tenure, according to GovTrack.Us. That puts him in the top 10 percent of career missed votes among those who served in this session of Congress. Those numbers are good enough to make the claim that his attendance record is “one of the worst” True.
Federal legislators miss votes for many reasons. For instance, former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), who was severely wounded in a 2011 assassination attempt, has the lowest career attendance record of anyone who served in the current session of Congress.
Members of Congress running for another office also tend to be absent more often. Former presidential candidates Paul, Rep. Michele Bachmann, Sens. John McCain and John Kerry all have worse career attendance records than Filner. So does Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.).
It shouldn’t be a surprise, however, that DeMaio and his supporters are leveling this attack at Filner. They’ve done it before.
They wielded the missed votes issue to great effect during the primary, when they took on Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher. Polling from DeMaio’s PAC showed that Fletcher’s absenteeism in the state Legislature eroded his support among voters more than any other issue. They were relentless in hitting him with it. Fletcher finished third in the primary.
More generally, campaign experts say absenteeism is a common line of attack. Voters can understand the don’t-show-up-for-work message it conveys.
University of Georgia political scientist Keith Poole told the Chicago Tribune recently that absenteeism is a “staple of campaign advertising.”
“So if you have a bad record and you missed 10 percent of the votes, or even 5 percent of the votes, it’ll be used against you in a campaign,” Poole said.
Filner’s campaign posted a web video rebutting DeMaio’s charge. Filner called the attack “a very strange criticism,” and said his voting record would be used against him either way — if he had he gone to Washington, D.C. to vote rather than stay in San Diego to debate, that too would have been fodder for DeMaio. He emphasized that he’s remained responsive to his constituents, noted in the Congressional Record how he would have voted and made sure to vote when his decision was important to the outcome.
“Nobody can match my commitment to the job, whether as a congressman or as I will do as mayor,” Filner said.
Filner also released a statement Thursday saying he had “one of the best voting records in Congress.” To back that up, he pointed to his first nine terms in office — a timeframe that excludes the current term, during which the lion’s share of his missed votes took place.
Below is the television ad from the DeMaio PAC and Filner’s response video.
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Liam Dillon is a news reporter for Voice of San Diego. He covers San Diego City Hall, the 2012 mayor’s race and big building projects.
Please contact him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or 619.550.5663.
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