WASHINGTON – Democrat Ralph Neas says Rep. Constance A. Morella’s voting record has veered toward the right since the Republican takeover of Congress, one of the reasons he will announce a bid Monday to run against her.
As she has in past races, Morella, R-Montgomery, counters she is still the most independent member of the House.
Both are right.
Although Morella tended to vote more conservatively after the 1994 Republican takeover, she still led her party colleagues in 1996 in voting against the Republican majority.
In 1993 and 1994, the final two years of the Democratic majority, Morella voted against her Republican party on 74 percent of 27 key votes, according to Congressional Quarterly. In 1995 and 1996, during the Republican-led 104th Congress, she voted against her party on 53 percent of key issues.
Her rating by partisan groups also reflected a shift. Americans for Democratic Action rated Morella’s voting record as 70 percent liberal through 1994, but that dropped to 50 percent by 1996. Congressional Quarterly said her votes against Conservative Coalition issues fell from 49 percent in 1994 to 36 percent in 1995.
But Morella still leads Republicans in votes against party- backed legislation — though not by the margins she did in 1994.
“1994 was the Republican revolution,” said Bob Carolla, communications director for ADA. “If you look at her two-year average in the last Congress — the 104th Congress — her average was only 48 percent.”
Carolla said it was this change in Morella’s voting record that led ADA members to endorse her Democratic opponent, Donald Mooers, in 1996. The organization has not decided yet whether it will endorse Neas.
That change in Morella’s record also motivated Neas.
“The Connie Morella I voted for is no longer in the House,” said Neas, who was registered as a Republican until last year.
He said he hears unrest among Montgomery County voters.
“There is a real fear of those who presently control Congress,” he said. “With respect to Morella, she has been forced to move considerably to the right.”
“[She] is not the Connie Morella people voted for prior to 1994.”
Morella said she receives favorable feedback on her voting record and pointed out her high ratings with environmental, federal employee, technology, women’s and education groups.
Montgomery County is heavily Democratic with a large number of federal employees and facilities such as the National Institutes for Standards and Technology and the National Institutes of Health.
“I listen to both sides of the issues and do what I believe is in the best interest of my constituents, my country and my conscience,” Morella said.
She pointed to her 1996 ratings of 100 percent by the Concord Coalition, a balanced-budget advocacy group, and 77 percent by the Consumer Federation of America.
Her lowest ratings in 1996 came from the American Conservative Coalition with 30 percent and the conservative, pro- family Christian Coalition with 20 percent.
Irwin Gertzog, professor of political science at Allegheny College in Pennsylvania, said anyone in Morella’s position could be expected to alter their voting record.
“Once you become a member of the majority, you’re likely to be under greater pressure to pass legislation on the majority’s agenda,” Gertzog said.
But Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, R-Eastern Shore, said no such party pressure has ever existed.
“There is absolutely no pressure to vote other than your conscience,” Gilchrest said. “And even if there was, an individual is pressured to the degree they allow themselves to be pressured.”
“Connie votes her conscience.”
Morella also denied she feels pressure from her Republican colleagues and said she considers each issue individually before voting on it.
While she has cast more votes with her party in the last Congress, Morella’s stance on major issues such as opposing a ban on partial-birth abortions, has not changed.
Morella has consistently broken ranks with Republicans on major party issues. She opposed more parts of the “Contract With America” than any other Republican, did not support Rep. Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., in his second run for Speaker of the House, and did not attend a Republican National Convention until 1992.
A member of the committees on Science, Government Reform and Oversight and the Congressional Caucus on Women’s Issues, Morella strayed from her party on legislation involving crime, science and technology, campaign finance and women’s issues. She is known for being fiscally conservative.
“It is important to build coalitions and I feel I am a bridge between the two parties,” Morella said.
Eric Uslaner, professor of government and politics at the University of Maryland, said he believes Morella’s liberal tendencies bother other party members, but they will not take action against her.
“Many of her Republican colleagues are frustrated by her voting, but they don’t attempt to do anything about it in part because they realize she reflects her district,” Uslaner said.
Joyce Terhes, chairwoman of the Republican Party of Maryland, said she does not feel Morella’s liberal voting record shows she is disloyal to the party.
“What Connie is loyal to is what she says when she runs for office,” Terhes said. “She is very upfront and says who she is.”
“She sticks to her campaign promises and if she didn’t … we wouldn’t have a Republican woman from Montgomery County in Congress.”