Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Is Ryan Zinke Aiming for the United States Senate in 2018?

Members of Congress go to Washington and establish reputational styles which help explain to constituents the work that they do while on Capitol Hill. There is no one way to “correctly” represent a place, but a representational style chosen by a member reflects in part the priorities of the geographic constituency the member represents and their own personal inclinations born from their pre-congressional careers. Richard Fenno (1978), in his book Home Style, documented the various representational styles developed by members of Congress and used by them when explaining their “Washington Work” back home. Fenno documents three rough representational types: the constituent servant, the policy expert, and the member of Congress as “one of us.”

I discuss these in detail elsewhere (Parker 2015, Parker and Goodman 2009, Parker and Goodman 2013), so I’ll be brief.. A constituent servant helps constituents with casework, policy experts work on legislation and develop proficiency in a particular issue area, while “one of us” representatives “work to display their connectivity to a place and a group—and through that connection, demonstrate trustworthiness” (Parker 2015: 15).

It is clear that Congressman Zinke is comfortably slipping into a policy expert representational style—emphasizing his defense and foreign relations credentials (which are bolstered by his membership on the House Armed Services Committee). This makes sense for two reasons. First, it allows him to draw upon a pre-political career, which is a considerable electoral and governing asset. Second, it allows him to establish a representational relationship without competing directly with Senator Jon Tester or Senator Steve Daines. I wrote a blog some time ago noting how House members representing a state share a representational space with two U.S. Senators (see also Wendy Schiller’s Partners and Rivals). Just as U.S. Senators need to figure out how to craft their own distinctive reputations, so, too, must House members representing a state. This is especially important because media coverage and space are at a particular premium in these smaller states; to get attention, you must be doing something different from the rest of the delegation.

Members of the House face an additional complication when they are the lone representative. Many House members develop constituent service reputations in the House. But, as the work of Lee and Oppenheimer (1999) demonstrate, constituents in small states are more likely to contact their senators to solve problems and address casework concerns because senators are just as accessible, if not more so, than the House members in small states. In fact, the Montana’s senators have nearly twice the personal staff as the House member and have more offices back home. One of Congressman Denny Rehberg’s biggest challenges in his 2012 campaign was overcoming this official resource disparity to compete successfully with Senator Tester—and it is this disparity as much as other issues that was responsible for his loss.

Congressman Zinke, in choosing to develop a policy expert representational style, is consciously avoiding the problem faced by Congressman Rehberg and other House members representing entire states. He is striking out in a policy area not clearly owned by either Tester or Daines, and he can establish a favorable reputation among constituents without necessarily being in the position to be unfavorably compared to the Senate delegation from the get go. Congressmen simply cannot effectively compete as constituent servants against their Senate delegation in big states. It is a losing proposition. 

But, Congressman Zinke is doing far more with his policy expert representational style than becoming a statewide voice on national security matters and simply settling into his House seat for the long haul. Indeed, Congressman Zinke is consciously building a media presence well-beyond the statewide Montana media. 

Congressman Zinke, unlike his fellow House freshman, is getting noticed by national news outlets. He has appeared on CNN’s State of the Union, on the O’Reilly Factor, and on Fox News with Sean Hannity. He was mentioned in a New York Times piece on veterans in Congress, and had an op-ed published in the Washington Times. This is very unusual indeed for a freshman House member.

How unusual? Let’s go to the data!

I searched Lexis-Nexis Academic between January 5 and February 19, 2015 for each instance a freshman member of Congress’ name appeared in print, in the transcripts of national news broadcasts, or on blogs. I then produced two quick scatterplots. Both scatterplots have each freshmen house member, alphabetically listed by state, on the X Axis. 

The first scatterplot here has the number of mentions in national broadcast news broadcasts on the Y axis. The black line is the mean number of mentions, which is a bit more than one mention. The modal category is zero—meaning most House freshman in the 114th Congress are simply not mentioned by national news broadcasts. Congressman Zinke had five mentions—well above the average. I also indicate the other House freshman who had more mentions that Congressman Zinke. (Click on the plot for a larger version)

This actually underestimates, however, the attention Zinke has received. Congressman Zinke was not just mentioned—he was an invited guest on these programs on five occasions he shows up in the database. In each instance, Congressman Zinke focused his remarks on national security and foreign policy. 

Only Congresswoman Mia Love, a freshman Republican from Utah, who is both Mormon and a Haitian-American, has received anywhere close to the attention from the national networks. And while she has been mentioned more than Zinke on national television, she has only been a guest on a national news program twice. In fact, what seems to explain the attention given to the other freshman are special descriptive qualities about them. Congresswoman Elise Stefanik is the youngest woman ever to serve in Congress. Congressman Curbelo is a Latino Republican who is becoming the party’s face on immigration. And Congressman Lee Zeldin is the only Jewish Republican in the chamber and is a vocal critic of the administration from his perch on the foreign relations committee.

In the second scatterplot, the Y-axis represents the total number of mentions of each freshman House member of the 114th Congress on national news and in non-home state newspapers and blogs. The mean mention was seven (indicated by the bold black line). Again, Congressman Zinke outperforms this by far, with a total of 16 mentions—more than twice the average mentions across all three media platforms. (Click on the plot for a larger version)

(Quick side note: As other scholarship has shown, members of the majority party seem to get a media attention bonus and that’s the case here—Republican freshman in the House have slightly higher mentions on the web, in newspapers, and especially on television than Democratic freshmen).

Developing strong national defense credentials from which to build a constituency beyond Montana helps Zinke both in terms of reelection to the House and burnishes his credentials in a possible challenge to Jon Tester in 2018. How?

First, national media attention is often seen as desirable by constituents. In one study of national media exposure of U.S. Senators, Barbara Sinclair (1990) found that the number of mentions in The New York Times is associated with higher job approval ratings and feeling thermometer scores from individual constituents. Second, national media attention can also lead to additional power within the hall of Congress itself. Sinclair also writes that “within the Washington political community, national media exposure serves as an indicators that the senator is a player of consequence and, by showing she or he can command an audience, it increases the senator’s clout” (489). Zinke benefits by seeking out and successfully obtaining national media coverage on the campaign trail and in Washington.

But, thinking long term, developing a national media attention brings an added bonus beyond the obvious exposure to a network of national Republicans critical to raising the substantial sums necessary to fund a competitive Senate bid against an incumbent. It helps craft the perception of an activist representational style that constituents tend to expect from U.S. Senators more so than from individual members of Congress.

I present two pieces of evidence in support. The first is from Fenno’s book on North Dakota Senator Mark Andrews, When Incumbency Fails (1992). In that book, Senator Andrews—elected to his first term in 1980—is concerned about the prospect of facing a strong challenge from the state’s Democratic Congressman, Byron Dorgan. Dorgan, unlike Andrews, received considerable positive publicity around the North Dakota and was constantly holding forums with constituents. Andrews, on the hand, came home less often and spent much of his time mired in policy detail behind the scenes—while garnishing negative media attention due to a malpractice lawsuit he and his wife had launched against the state’s medical establishment in Fargo. Fenno argues that Andrews was trapped by the constituent service, small ball legislative politics style he developed as a member of the House Appropriations Committee—a style which seemed too little for the expectations North Dakotans had of their U.S. Senator.

The second is my own book, Battle for the Big Sky. In that book, I did three focus groups with voters in Gallatin County. One of the questions I asked was whether they saw senators and members of Congress playing different roles. On the whole, they agreed that the two positions were qualitatively different. Here’s what Nicholas, a 60 year old retired policeman said on the subject:

“I tend,” said Nicholas, to “see a senator as having the potential to be in the role as a statesperson much more than a representative.”62 Senators could “get something done” because the House members are “one per­son in a sea.” Not only would the Senate get more done but it would be more careful, “more considerate. [They] will more thoroughly look at something, be more educated on the topic” (153-154).

In this vein, Zinke looks—in cultivating his representational style and national media attention—like he’s positioning himself for a run at the U.S. Senate. Add to this the fact that he has been openly critical of Senator Tester on more than one occasion (here and here) since taking office, and I very much suspect that he will try to do what Denny Rehberg could not: Unseat Senator Tester.

I asked Zinke about this on KBZK this morning. Watch the interview here.

He pooh-poohed the idea, saying that as a member of the "loyal opposition" it was his job to occasionally criticize the other side and that there's nothing amiss in his relationship with Montana's senior senator.

Will he run and, if he runs, will he succeed? I don’t know. I do know, however, that I will be paying careful attention in the months and years ahead for hints and clues as to the Congressman’s true intentions.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Roll Calls, Lies, and Keystone XL

Yesterday, the U.S. Senate passed after extensive debate a bill greenlighting the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline. The final vote was 62-32 in favor, two votes more than the 60 vote threshold required to avoid a filibuster. The Senate version of the bill will either go back to the House where they can pass it as is, or the House can request a conference committee to hash out the differences. If the House goes the conference route, the committee will produce a report subject to a straight up-down vote in both chambers. In either case, everyone anticipates that some form of Keystone legislation will be sent to the president within the next week.

But, it really doesn’t matter. Because President Obama has indicated he will veto any Keystone XL bill, as he believes that Congress is intruding on his presidential powers by authorizing an infrastructure project crossing an international boundary. And, as there are not enough votes in either chamber to override his veto, Keystone XL will be again delayed and remain unbuilt unless and until Obama gives the project his assent.

The political realities of Keystone did not prevent political gamesmanship in the wake of the vote here in Montana though. Republicans have been chomping at the bit to get this legislation passed, giving it the designation of Senate Bill 1 to signal the importance of the issue. But the legislation has been debated for weeks now and subject to scores of amendments. To expedite the bill’s passage earlier this week, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell filed a cloture motion to end debate on the bill and prevent additional amendments from being considered. As you all know, a cloture motion is used either to prevent or stop an ongoing filibuster, and if it passes, places strict limits on further discussion before moving to a vote on final passage.

This cloture motion failed 53 to 39 (again, the motion needed 60 votes), with Montana Senator Jon Tester voting against cloture. Montana’s freshman senator, Steve Daines, supported McConnell and voted to end debate. 

 (Caption: Montana's congressional delegation, presumably before the vote on Keystone XL)

 Freshman Congressman Ryan Zinke immediately took the opportunity to blast Tester. “To me, a vote against the Keystone is a vote against Montana,” he said. “I’m a proud co-sponsor of the House bill to build the Keystone XL Pipeline because it is proven to be safe and in the best interest of Montana. I will always put Montana before raising money from special interests in Washington, D.C.” (Full story here).

Zinke implied, of course, that Tester’s a flip-flopper and in the pocket of special interests—special interests that are opposed to the construction of Keystone and the production of good paying Montana jobs.

Yesterday’s press release from Montana’s State Republican Party was much more hyperbolic than Zinke’s statement. Here is what they sent via e-mail to those subscribing to their list:
Last November, Tester voted to build the Keystone XL pipeline.
On Monday, Tester joined Senator Democrats’ delay tactics and
voted against the Keystone XL pipeline
  • Tester claimed he wanted more amendments and debate but last November- when Tester voted for the Keystone XL pipeline- there were no amendments allowed and just 6 hours of debate. 
  • Under the Republican-led Senate, there have already been “more amendment votes than in all of 2014 under Democratic control” on the Keystone bill alone.  And, the Senate has spent 3 weeks debating the bill
On Wednesday, Tester voted to support President Obama’s latest land power grab, allowing Obama to declare land in Phillips County a national monument and immediately halt construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.”

Both Congressman Zinke and the Montana Republican Party, in their eagerness to score political points, are pushing a narrative spun of cynicism and obfuscation instead of an honest consideration of the facts. And this, I find as a political scientist, quite disturbing. 

Let’s consider reality for a moment.

Tester supports construction of Keystone XL, but with some qualifications, and as he has since the project was proposed. I spoke with him about Keystone XL and energy development in the Bakken on Veteran’s Day in 2011 as we flew between Billings and Helena—an interview I conducted as part of the research for my book, Battle for the Big Sky. Here is the transcript verbatim:

David:                  Do you have any problems with more development in the Balkan?
Sen. Tester:          No. 
David:                  No?
Sen. Tester:          No.  As long as it's done right.  It's kind of like the Keystone pipeline, as long as it’s done right, you can do it.  Now, I'm going to tell you what.  There's a lot of times that this stuff isn't done right and taxpayers for generations and generations to come have to fix the problem.  Take a look at a lot of the abandoned mines around.  Yeah, they create a bunch of jobs and then when they left, it becomes a Superfund site the taxpayers have to pick up.  That isn't a false choice.  That should have been -- the rules should have been dictated early and that's what I'm saying is make sure we get the playing field established so that it is done right so that it isn't a false choice.
David:                Are you confident with the rules and regulations in place now that the Bakken can be drilled safely?
Sen. Tester:          Yeah. 
David:                Well then let me ask the follow-up question to that.  If we sit and put our eggs in the Bakken basket, don't we risk basically having Butte part 2 over again?  All this development happens, big towns happen, oil's gone, it collapses.  How do we, as a state, look beyond that?
Sen. Tester:          I don't know that I say we put all our eggs in the Bakken basket.  I think we've got incredible opportunities in wind and solar and renewable energies across the board, but we also need to do right because they can be done wrong, but do those right and expand upon those.  I think the Bakken [play], if that's all we're going to look at for energy future, big mistake, big mistake.  I think if we developed the Balkan right, there are going to jobs there for many, many years and there can be a level of energy security there for many, many years. 
David:                      But what about the environmentalist movement?  There's a number of folks that are really opposed to the pipeline, opposed to drilling the Bakken and ostensibly those people are going to be people who are probably going to want to vote for you and not Denny Rehberg [Tester’s opponent in 2012], isn't there a risk that they're not going to show up and turn out to help you?
Sen. Tester:          I always think common sense is going to be the deciding factor when it comes to elections and I think, if you develop in a common sense way, everybody can win.  That’s the basis of my Forest Jobs bill.  And there's going to be people on the hard right and the hard left that want it all their way, but that's not practical and it’s not common sense.  So you've got to be thoughtful about it.  You've got to make sure you do it right.  You've got to make sure that folks follow the rules.
                              And if agency folks don't follow the rules, by the way, I don't care if you're talking about benefits for veterans or you're talking about drilling in the Bakken or whatever, that's an important part of the equation.  So but no, I think enviros in the end can take a look at what I stand for.  You know, it is a good choice, it is a clear choice for them because you've got, on the one hand, the guy [Rehberg] who built the Keystone pipeline, come hell or high water and I'm saying let’s use our heads about this.  Let's do it right if we're going to do it.  And the same thing with drilling in the Balkan, let’s do it right. 
I searched Tester’s Senate press releases, available on his Senate website, for the term “Keystone XL” to further understand his position on Keystone XL.  The first mention of the project came in 2010, when Tester questioned TransCanada’s request to operate the proposed pipeline at a higher than standard pressure—a request which TransCanada withdrew at Tester’s urging. The press release aptly portrays Tester’s position on Keystone XL: He wants it built, but with certain restrictions. Completely in step, mind you, with what he told me in fall of 2011 more than a year later.

That’s the same pattern you see when reviewing Tester’s votes on amendments to Senate Bill 1. Tester supported some amendments mandating that the pipeline to be built with American material and labor. He voted for an amendment clarifying that products produced from tar sands would be subject to federal petroleum excise taxes. He supported an amendment requiring a renewable standard for electricity production. He opposed an amendment requiring the federal home heating assistance program to be funded at a minimum level, and another restricting the transportation of petroleum coke. 

Most of these amendments, including those Tester favored, failed. And despite the fact Tester has long supported amendments requiring the use of American labor and material in the construction of Keystone XL, he supported the bill on final passage. To be clear, Tester did not get his ideal Keystone XL bill. But he voted for it anyway—figuring, I suspect, that half a loaf was better than none.
You can see all the roll call votes on the Senate website here.

So, where’s the alleged flip flop? As far as I can tell, in my review of previous pieces of legislation and Senate amendments concerning Keystone XL going back to 2011, Tester has always supported the construction of Keystone XL.

The “flip flop” is because Tester did not vote in favor of cutting off debate on Senate Bill 1 says the Montana Republican Party. He’s not a Keystone XL “purist” because he favored more debate and more amendments.

Well, a funny thing happens when a party moves from the minority to the majority. Because all of the sudden, positions the party once took become, shall we say, inconvenient. 

When Republicans served in the Senate minority in the last Congress, they expressed indignity when Senator Reid did not allow them the courtesy of considering Republican amendments to Democratic-crafted bills. Democrats did not allow the amendment process to run its full course, they said, and they felt debate was rushed and did not consider the minority party’s point of view.

Here’s Republican Senator Orrin Hatch in a National Journal piece on Harry Reid’s ironclad control over the Senate floor agenda, achieved by filling the amendment tree (thereby shutting out the minority party in the amending of legislation): "When the Senate Democratic leadership decides to bring a bill to the floor, far more often than not we are blocked from offering any amendments," Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said on the floor last week.” You can access the article here. Republicans, of course, vowed to allow more amendments and greater debate if only voters gave them a majority in the Senate.

Majority status means majority control, and it often means that in order to get things done, you have to shut down debate and control what can and cannot be discussed. It also means limiting the amending process. I’ll bet you good money that we’ll see far less amend-a-thons on future bills in the Republican-led Senate. The Republicans, while in the minority, doth protest too much.

On this point, the Republican Party’s press release was disingenuous. But what followed next was either disturbing or laughable. Take your pick.

One of the amendments voted upon by the Senate AFTER cloture failed was Senator Steve Daines’ Senate Amendment 132, which expressed the “sense of Congress” that restrictions should be placed on the president’s ability to create National Monuments. You can read the text of the amendment here.

Tester voted no on that amendment—a vote which he never would have taken had the cloture petition succeeded—the same cloture petition that Tester was criticized for voting against in the same press release! 

So Tester’s faulted for voting against cloture, and then he is criticized for endorsing “President Obama’s latest land power grab, allowing Obama to declare land in Phillips County a national monument and immediately halt construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.” At least, that’s what is spun in the press release. Don’t believe it.

Facts are stubborn things. Had Daines’ amendment passed, it would have done nothing to change existing statute.

There is no land grab in Phillips County—and even if there was or is, Senator Tester’s vote on Senate Amendment 132 certainly didn’t express his views on it. At best, Tester voting no suggests that he believes that the executive branch has and should have the power to protect land by declaring it a national monument under the Antiquities Act. Every president since has created at least one National Monument—including Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan. It does not mean he wants President Obama to drop a national monument in Phillips County and stop Keystone XL because HE WANTS KEYSTONE XL BUILT.

The process of legislating is messy, tortuous, and complicated. To truly understand it requires taking each and every vote and placing it into its proper context. To do otherwise represents a gross distortion of the how the Senate and House operate, and at its core, represents elevating a politically-driven narrative at the expense of what Stephen Colbert termed as “truthiness.” 

Perhaps more importantly, no piece of legislation is perfect. To expect our legislators to vote for the perfect bill asks the impossible. No legislator can or should be held to that standard. But the way in which political operatives abuse roll call records, they aim to make us think there is only one way—the true way—to represent a political position and the interests of a place or a people. Everything else is craven and suspect. I fundamentally object to this standard, and to this particular misrepresentation of legislating. We ought to expect better of civic discussion and discourse.

One final point. Using the logic of the Montana Republican Party as expressed in their press release, I guess Senator Mitch McConnell hates Keystone, too, because he voted against his own cloture motion! He flip-flopped!

Don’t believe me? Go look it up here

No, of course not. He voted against it as a procedural matter so that he could later introduce a possible motion to reconsider on the bill. But hey, context doesn’t matter, right?