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January 11, 2006

Who is the Pro-Choicest of the Pro-Choicers?

By Jim Dallas

As I believe I've noted, I'm supporting Chris Bell in the Democratic primary. I am, however, fairly amicable towards Bob Gammage's candidacy. Unless Bob Gammage eats a baby on national television, I'll probably be fairly unlikely to engage in gratuitous Gammage-bashing myself. That means I'll probably spend the next few weeks or months (hopefully until the primary, you know, but these truces don't always last) sitting on the sidelines acting as scorekeeper as the die-hards heat things up.

Liz Carpenter, Sarah Weddington, Molly Beth Malcolm, et al - Bell backers - stepped up to the pitchers' mound today with an e-mail to the Chris Contingency on the abortion issue:

When Texas Democratic women help choose our next nominee for governor, we need to know we can trust that the nominee will not just say the right things about a woman's right to choose, but will also do the right things. We need to know that we can trust him to fight for our rights when the pressure's on. Both of the top Democrats running for governor say they're pro-choice, but only one of them has faithfully stood by us in our political fights, and that is Chris Bell.

The other Democratic candidate, Bob Gammage, said he was pro-choice when he filed for governor, but when he had to choose between placating anti-choicers and sticking up for his beliefs in Congress, Bob abandoned us. Bob was on the anti-choice side of just about every vote on reproductive rights when he was in Congress. The votes may have been taken a long time ago but it’s the most recent and telling legislative experience he offers for this office. We can’t trust Bob Gammage to take the heat and fight for our rights.

Ladies, I have tremendous respect for you all. But I have to call this one a ball, not a strike. Besides the fact that these votes took place nearly thirty years ago (Gammage was elected to one term in Congress, from 1977 to 1979), the characterization of Gammage's record as "placating anti-choicers" is somewhat questionable. Let's take a look at Bob Gammage's actual votes to see why. (Below the Flip)

P.S.Brains and Eggs - which really ought to be added to our blogroll - notes that the Bell campaign summarized the votes here. As I note below, interpreting voting records can be kind of a dodgy affair, and their interpretation is different than mine. I'd like to hear from a Congress expert (which I am not).

The roll call votes in the 95th Congress which were clearly about abortion were vote numbers 326, 466, 550, 595, 596, 603, 681, 690, 696, 701, 1087, 1088, 1290, 1344, 1496, 1516, and 1521. All but one of these votes turned on whether the government should fund abortions, not whether abortion itself should be legal. The other vote (1344) turned on whether the civil rights commission should be involved in studying abortion regulations.

The issue of public funding of abortions was the major abortion rights issue in 1977 and 1978. These votes largely served to clarify and extend the scope of the 1976 Hyde Amendment. As a 1978 Newsweek article stated, "[f]or women who are unable to pay for abortions, the big questions now [was] what exceptions will be allowed in the federal ban." Throughout much of 1977 and 78, the issue raged, with the House preferring language banning funds completely or in all cases except for where the mother's life was in jeopardy. The Senate, however, wanted exceptions for the mother's health and in the cases of rape and incest. Gammage's record (and they can sometimes be something of a Rorschach blot) suggests that his views aligned fairly closely with that of the Senate, favoring a liberalized or compromise ban. Given that the status quo ante in 1977 was a total ban, per the 1976 Hyde Amendment, Gammage's position could be construed as moderately pro-choice. Moreover, Gammage's position seems to have been roughly in line with the Carter Administration's (which seems to have opposed federal funding of abortion).

Laid out, here are Gammage's votes:

Vote Number Yays-Nays Gammage Vote
326 201-155 Paired Yea*
466 238-182 Yea
550 164-252 Yea
595 209-206 Nay
596 263-142 Nay
603 163-234 Yea
681 183-205 Yea
690 170-200 Absent
696 171-178 Paired Nay*
701 181-167 Absent
1087 122-287 Yay
1088 198-212 Yay
1290 226-163 Nay
1344 234-131 Yay
1496 188-216 Yay
1516 137-232 Yay
1521 198-195 Yay

* For information on paired votes, see here. My understanding is that you must reverse the position (Yea means Nay) in order to understand the paired vote's real meaning here.

At any rate, it seems to me that one can be both pro-choice and anti-funding. This was (apparently) Al Gore's position during the 1980s, and is the position of the Libertarian Party. Granted, I understand there is an argument that the abortion issue is about positive liberty (female empowerment, etc. etc.) and not negative liberty ("keep your laws off my body"). Under the former, public funding is actually sort of a big deal. But personally, I find it a stretch that voting against government funding for abortion can be called "abandoning" the pro-choice movement. Though to be sure, Bob Gammage's record clearly indicates that he wasn't an automatic vote for the women's rights groups who (in the 1970s) had some fairly exorbitant demands.

On the other hand, however, it is equally plain that Gammage's entire Congressional record is moderately conservative. His Americans for Democratic Action ratings were 20 (out of 100) in 1977 and 25 in 1978. These scores were actually fairly typical for most of the Texas Democratic congressmen in the 95th Congress (only Reps. Eckhardt, Jordan, and Gonzales - regularly scored above 50).

Chris Bell received a score of 100% from NARAL in 2004 (these rankings did not exist in 1978) and 85% from ADA in 2004. Clearly, Chris Bell is more attuned to the interests of reproductive rights activists. Nevertheless, given the very real fact that today's anti-abortion activists are trying to criminalize (as oppose to privatize the funding for) abortion, one cannot escape the impression that the Ladies are comparing apples to oranges, and making mountains out of molehills. To say the least, I am not yet convinced that Bob Gammage is a baby-eater (good for him).

Posted by Jim Dallas at January 11, 2006 05:02 PM | TrackBack


When it comes to abortion, either way you look at it: given the choice--if I'm pro-choice--I'd just have to lean toward voting for the candidate backed up by the lady who won Roe v. Wade.
So far I think Bell seems the better Democrat.

Posted by: ATXdem at January 11, 2006 08:17 PM

Kudos, Jim for a the analytical look at Gammage's voting record from that era.

The ladies are certainly within their rights to send email to anyone they choose, speaking up on any issue they choose to, but I have to admit I'm a little disappointed that they were so (maybe purposefully) vague about the whole 'voting history' thing.

Thanks for helping to wade through the 'political fog'. Making a story into something it isn't really what I expected from the Bell campaign.

I've always been pro-choice, but since they're both pro-choice and it's not the only issue we have to consider before the primary, I think I'll keep an open mind.

So far as I can tell, team Bell took a swing at the fences today and missed. We'll have to see how the rest of the game plays out.

Posted by: Kitty at January 11, 2006 08:56 PM


Your use of the term "Ladies" -- and capitalized, no less -- is obnoxiously condescending.

At a time when the the United States Senate might be about to confirm a misogynist as Justice, thus paving the way for overturning Roe, it seems possible that you might consider more appropriate terminology in the future.

(Kitty gets a pass for what are -- presumably -- obvious reasons.)

Posted by: PDiddie at January 11, 2006 09:02 PM

Perhaps it's a generational thing.

My (and Weddington, et. al) generation seems to prefer "Ladies" (as equivalent to "Gentlemen"). It may be that you feel that a younger generation's "Girls" is more appropriate. I've often heard women referred to as "girls" by those under 40--but I find that term both demeaning and childish. Gals won't do either, its just a bit too familiar.

Perhaps, PDittie, you should propose a non-derogatory noun to describe a group of women. Now THAT might be an issue to campaign on.

Posted by: Kitty at January 11, 2006 09:33 PM

Jim: Call me stupid, but how do you decipher the data on that site you linked to, ie, ftp://pooleandrosenthal.com/dtaord/hou95kh.ord? Are these files to be downloaded and opened in another program?

Also, is there an index to the site with voting records from other sessions? And, how the heck did you find this anyway??? Hell of a find, to say the least, if they have all the sessions up.

Posted by: Vince Leibowitz at January 11, 2006 10:52 PM

I have to wonder if senility is at work here with a couple of the ladies, one of whom I've known for years and doubt I will ever speak to again.

Liz Carpenter in particular has disgraced the memory of a truly great Democrat who she worked for, and did well by I might add, by endorsing the likes of Chris Bell. Question is why she would.

What does the governor of Texas have to do with abortion rights? Nothing.

The ladies would do better to direct their "activism" where it might matter. Mainly the hearings on Alito. He will have everything to do with abortion rights.

It should be noted that Chris Bell's "pro-choice" position isn't that "solid" given his recent meanderings about better sex education being an "alternative" to abortion. And stating that no one he knows believes in abortion. Something Sarah Weddington should have thought about before adding her name to this. Something all of them should have.

"Both of the top Democrats running for governor say they're pro-choice, but only one of them has faithfully stood by us in our political fights, and that is Chris Bell."

What political fights are the ladies referring to?

Some of the ladies made it clear they were speaking for themselves, not for the organizations they are associated with. Just the same, those organizations will never see another check from me again. Or from quite a few others. They can get the checks from whomever obviously wrote the checks for this truly questionable endorsement.

Chris Bell seems intent on running his campaign on the low road and in the mud. I hope Bob Gammage decides to join him and gets a good private investigator and slings some mud back. And there's quite a bit to sling back.

Liz, Lyndon is turning in his grave. Shame on you.

Posted by: Baby Snooks at January 12, 2006 01:42 AM

Kitty, I think 'women' is is probably OK with everybody.

And as Baby Snooks acidly reminds us, 'obnoxious' is not reserved for Jim.

As usual, BS, your post does nothing to advance the discussion. Where would you be without your ad hominem? How could you have run out of points to make before you even got started?

This is an endorsement letter. While the signers clearly have an opinion about the candidate's voting record, their opinion is worth at least precisely what yours is worth. "Others" would say that the weight of their opinion is significantly greater than yours -- and some less -- but that's for each to decide.

Your by-now-expected hostile invective toward those with whom you disagree politically is simply not a valuable part of this discussion. I feel certain you've been told this many times before, but you cannot build up the cause of one person by tearing down another. It simply makes YOU look bad.

You and your "others" are invited to sit out the rest of the conversation here. Run along and play, dear; the grownups are talking.

You can always come back when you have something besides your bitterness to post.

Posted by: PDiddie at January 12, 2006 05:12 AM

Anyone seen Bell's numbers post the Gammage announcement?

Posted by: energyecon at January 12, 2006 07:57 AM

Vince --

Poole and Rosenthal collected all the roll calls to do spatial analysis on Congressional voting. They have, I believe, every Congress on there.

My methodology for this was as follows:

First, I obtained Gammage's record. This was done by finding the appropriate line in the "dat" file and then using Excel's "mid" function to turn the horizontal data into vertical data (which I could then match up to the roll call number).

For assessing roll calls, I simply did a "find" for the word abortion. There may have, in fact, been other abortion votes, but the only way to determine that would have been to go and read every bill and amendment for two years. Moreover, considering most Congress-critters don't read what they vote on, I wouldn't hold anyone accontable for a vote which is not clearly summarized as an abortion vote by Poole and Rosenthal.

Their main site is www.voteview.com.

Posted by: Jim D at January 12, 2006 09:03 AM


Just so you know.... "Women" is generally considered a perjorative term as a method of address for those of my generation. "Women" or (in Texas -- "Wimmen") are what "Men" go to see at strip bars.

"Ladies" are those you meet in polite society. Thanks for the attempt to be the PC police, but it's best left to those who are of the affected gender, don't you think?

Posted by: Kitty at January 12, 2006 09:58 AM

"As usual, BS, your post does nothing to advance the discussion. Where would you be without your ad hominem? How could you have run out of points to make before you even got started?"

Discussion? These "ladies" engaged in character assassination, implying that because a candidate voted against using federal tax dollars to pay for "abortion on demand" that he is not pro-choice and therefore a threat to abortion rights in Texas and therefore not qualified to be governor.

The only legitimate basis of such an argument would be Chris Bell having voted for such funding.

The point being made is not about voting records but about the character of a candidate. Not the first time Chris Bell has made such a point and probably won't be the last. The implication being made about Bob Gammage is based, as always with Chris Bell, on innuendo.

When short on facts, which is usually the case, Chris Bell resorts to innuendo. That these "ladies" resorted to innuendo as well, without facts to back their assertions up, only draws attention to their character as well as the character of Chris Bell. Not the character of Bob Gammage.

Speaks for itself as they say.

Posted by: Baby Snooks at January 12, 2006 10:24 AM

it's best left to those who are of the affected gender, don't you think?


My own experience was the opposite -- that 'ladies' was the condescension and 'women' the respectful term -- and that is based on my experience being raised by a strong, professional woman (university professor, retired, now in her '80's) who was also raised by a strong, professional woman (also a professor, of English at Loyola of Chicago, RIP).

As with your right to choose, I believe that men don't really warrant input in the decision-making process. You prefer 'lady', I'll call you 'lady', ma'am, with all respect intended.

Posted by: PDiddie at January 12, 2006 10:29 AM

Maybe its just me...and I have had plenty of poor dealing with her... but any time that Molly Beth Malcolm backs someone, I seriously reconsider my position.

Posted by: ETexDem at January 12, 2006 08:45 PM

So you supported Wes Clark in 04?

Good to know.

Posted by: Texas Kat at January 12, 2006 11:30 PM

I guess we have the Dirty Dozen coming out against the Dirty Thirty.

Maybe someone can wave enough money in front of Ann Richards and she can make it a baker's dozen.

Posted by: Baby Snooks at January 13, 2006 03:01 AM
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