WASHINGTON – When Rep. Steny Hoyer’s district was redrawn four years ago, he was handed a more moderate constituency than the one he had been serving.
His inner-beltway constituents in Prince George’s County were replaced by more conservative-leaning Democrats in Southern Maryland. “They really ought to be carrying Republican membership cards,” said state Sen. Thomas Middleton, D-Charles.
Some say Hoyer reacted predictably, shifting his votes and his rhetoric to the right. “There is no question he sounded a lot like Ronald Reagan by the end of the campaign,” said Republican Donald Devine, who lost the 5th District race to Hoyer in November.
But Hoyer says he is the same congressman he always was. “I don’t think I have changed in any way,” the Prince George’s County Democrat said. He added, “There are some issues that I feel strongly about which have come up recently that might lead to that conclusion.”
His ratings by political interest groups, which are based on key votes he has cast in Congress, tell a different story.
Between 1990 and 1994, Hoyer jumped from a zero to a 24 percent rating by the American Conservative Union, a grassroots lobbying group.
He voted in 1994 with conservative Democrats and Republicans 57 percent of the time, up from 22 percent in 1990, according to Congressional Quarterly, a weekly report on congressional legislation.
During the same five-year period, Hoyer’s ratings by two liberal groups dropped.
His American Civil Liberties Union approval rating dropped from 100 percent agreement to 64 percent.
His ratings by the AFL-CIO dropped from 100 to 74 percent.
Erik Uslaner, professor of government and politics at the University of Maryland, said the shift could be strategic.
“There’s no way Steny Hoyer can get elected in his new district if he voted the way he was traditionally voting,” Uslaner said. “I think it’s a political decision.”
One issue where Hoyer has clearly changed his vote is on the balanced budget amendment. In 1990, Hoyer voted against the amendment, which would keep Congress from spending more than it raises in revenues in a given year.
In 1992, after redistricting, he became one of the few senior Democrats to support it.
“The decision came from a growing frustration with the unwillingness of members of Congress to bring our finances in line with our budget,” Hoyer said.
In late January, he was again one of the few high-ranking Democrats to support a balanced budget amendment.
Constituents in the 5th District, which includes parts of Prince George’s and Anne Arundel counties, as well as Charles, St. Mary’s and Calvert counties, have noticed Hoyer’s swing towards fiscal conservatism.
“Congressman Hoyer is becoming more moderate in his views,” said state Del. John Slade, D-St. Mary’s. “He’s becoming more representative of the views of the people of his district.”
Hoyer has also shifted his position on crime issues.
In the past, he opposed the death penalty, voting against attempts by conservatives to impose it for a number of federal offenses. In 1990, he voted for an amendment that would have replaced a death penalty provision in President Bush’s crime bill with life imprisonment.
But last year, he voted against a similar amendment to President Clinton’s crime bill.
On an issue vital to his constituents – military spending – Hoyer has been consistent.
He has recently fought to keep Southern Maryland’s two large military bases open, but his support of defense spending goes back more than 10 years.
As early as 1983, Hoyer voted against cuts to the B-1 missile and Pershing missile programs.
Hoyer broke with his party leadership in 1985 to support the MX missile program.
“I supported much of the Reagan build-up,” he said.
Last year he opposed cuts in the defense budget and to specific programs such as the Trident submarine and ballistic missiles.
“I’ve always been a peace-through-strength Democrat,” Hoyer said.
His votes seem to put Hoyer in sync with his district, where 34 percent of the electorate are registered Republicans – up from 14 percent in the old 5th District.
He beat Devine in November with 59 percent of the vote.
“It’s a very delicate balancing act when a candidate is redistricted,” Uslaner said. “You’ve got an elaborate minuet that goes on between the candidates and the district between how far he has to go and how far he can go. “So far, Hoyer had been very good at it,” Uslaner said. -30-