2008 Presidential Election, Race and Racism
Professor Vernellia Randall
Speaking Truth to Power!

Barack: Back and Forth Voter


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Ginger Adams Otis
2/17/08 N.Y. Post 8


Before he was against riverside gambling, Barack Obama was for it.

When a controversial bill allowing riverboat casinos to operate at dockside came before him in 1997, it passed the Illinois Senate - despite vocal opposition from many church groups - by a two-vote margin.

Among those who voted "yes" was Obama, then starting his first term as a state senator.

Moments after voting to authorize the bill, the Democrat told the floor he had goofed.

"I'd like to be recorded as a 'no' vote," he said, according to transcripts, adding that he had mistakenly voted in favor of the legislation.

By claiming to have made an error, Obama's "intent" to vote against the measure was noted in the record. But his initial "yes" stood.

Obama made six similar "mistakes" during his state Senate years, twice on hotly contested measures.

Whether those errors were by design, as his critics charge, or by accident, as his presidential campaign insists, Obama's desire to placate both sides on contentious issues is a hallmark of his lawmaking career.

It's also an indication that despite his campaign rhetoric about the need for "change," he can fall prey to the same crowd-pleasing instincts that mark every politician.

As a neophyte legislator taking his place in the Illinois Senate in 1997, Obama earned a reputation for being tougher than he looked.

He reached across party lines to pass bills that weren't always palatable to the Republican majority.

He benefited from an early alliance with another powerful Democrat, state Sen. Emil Jones, who had come up through the Chicago political machine and helped guide his protege through his first few years.

But some of his early voting strategies on the state level have come back to haunt him on the presidential campaign trail. Aside from his six erroneous Senate votes, his rivals have sought to exploit another curious ballot-casting habit: 129 times over six years, he opted to vote "present" on bills.

It's another way, his critics claim, that the peace-loving Obama avoided a yes-or-no answer on controversial issues.

Many of his "present" votes were cast on politically explosive measures that sought to limit women's rights to an abortion, although Obama is avowedly pro-choice.

Another time he refused to vote "yes" or "no" on a bill that would have required teens 15 and older to be tried as adults for firing weapons near school grounds - a decision that has allowed his rivals to say he's indecisive on gun control.

Obama's camp has explained away most of his "present" votes as a tactic that was part of a larger Democratic strategy when the party was the minority of the Illinois Senate. Voting "present" is akin to abstaining in that participation in the session is noted, but no decision is recorded.

But there's more to Obama's Illinois years. He helped craft the state's first significant change in campaign-finance laws in decades, and convinced law-enforcement groups to back legislation requiring interrogations be videotaped. He pushed for welfare changes, a racial-profiling law and other bills he felt would improve the lives of the working poor he had encountered as a community organizer fresh from college.

Obama ran for Congress in 2000 and lost, but in 2003 he saw another opportunity to make a move. He was elected to the US Senate in November 2004 by an overwhelming majority.



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