Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (SD–AL)
Stephanie Herseth was born December 3, 1970 in South Dakota and raised on her family’s farm near Houghton SD. The Herseths were and are a prominent family in South Dakota; Stephanie’s grandfather was Governor, her grandmother was Secretary of State, and her father served in the SD legislature for 20 years. She went to public schools in SD, but obtained her undergraduate, graduate and law degrees at Georgetown University. After law school she worked in politically-related jobs in Washington for a few years, then moved back to South Dakota, where she practiced law briefly before getting into politics. At age 31, she chose for her first foray into electoral politics the U.S. House of Representatives. This may explain why SD right-wing blogs often refer to her as "Princess" Herseth. In March 2007, she married Max Sandlin, a former Texas Congressman gerrymandered out of his seat in DeLay’s 2004 redistricting, and one of Herseth’s political advisors since 2002. She is now officially Stephanie Herseth Sandlin.
In 2002, Herseth ran for the statewide South Dakota House seat against Republican Governor William Janklow, and did surprisingly well, polling 45.6% to Janklow’s 53.5% in a distinctly non-Democratic year. Then, in January 2004, Janklow was convicted of vehicular manslaughter. In the June 1 special election that followed, Herseth ran again, this time against newcomer Larry Diedrich, and she won with 51% of the vote. In this campaign she established her basic approach to South Dakota’s voters. She ran as an "independent" Democrat and a very nice person, as opposed to Diedrich’s aggressive hard-Republican style and party-line Republican issues. In her acceptance speech she emphasized her avoidance of "negative" campaign attacks, and spent her five-month term meeting and greeting South Dakota voters, showing her considerable charm. Her mantra then and now has been that since she represents ALL of South Dakota, she must be independent of partisan politics. In the November 2004 regular election she beat Diedrich again, with 53% of the vote. Running for reelection in 2006, she won in a landslide with a 40-point margin.
The special election in June 2004 also established the outlines of Herseth’s fiscal base. In each of her two elections in 2004 - special and regular – individual contributions exceeded PAC contributions by about 2 to 1. Of the PAC contributions, 40% was from "Ideological/Single Issue" organizations, which I took to be us. Of the PAC "ideological" total, three-fourths was from four feminist/pro-abortion organizations and one-fourth was from Democratic Party PAC’s. EMILY’s List generated contributions of $121,583, the largest single source. The 2nd-largest contribution was $30,850. About one-third of the June 2004 PAC contributions were from labor, and one-fourth from business, mostly law firms. MoveOn.org gave her campaign $5,000.
Sadly, Herseth’s 2006 contribution profile is very different: PAC contributions 62%, individual contributions 37%. Of the PAC contributions, Business PAC’s gave 50%, Labor 27%, Ideological/Single Issue 23%. EMILY’s List, however, has sent another $196,718 Herseth’s way since the 2004 elections. (Source of financial figures is Center for Responsive Politics.)
Stephanie Herseth Sandlin is a member (as was husband Max) of the Blue Dog Coalition and the House New Democrat Coalition. On issues, her votes demonstrate a complex mix that does not follow national divisions of liberal-conservative, but does reflect rural concerns in most cases. Her positions are populist more than liberal or conservative. Her endorsement of John Edwards is instructive: "I am proud to have endorsed John Edwards for president because he is the candidate of rural America, the candidate from rural America and he’ll be the president who will stand up and fight for rural America." As co-chair of the House Rural Working Group and a member of the House Agriculture Committee (also Natural Resources and Veterans Affairs), she has directed an ample share of farm subsidies to South Dakota, the primary measure of Congressional virtue in the SD press. She is a leading supporter of ethanol and other biofuels, of course. She also supports local issues such as prairie dogs and forest conservation, but she voted in favor of Bush’s energy bill, and for deauthorizing critical habitat for endangered species. Her opposition to gun control has earned her a 100% rating from the National Rifle Association. She opposes trade deals, unless they include safeguards for small farmers and working people. She voted to raise the minimum wage. All of this fits into a populist framework.
Herseth Sandlin’s record on civil liberties and the Iraq war is harder to explain. Populism is not necessarily inimical to justice or peace. The local blogger "A South Dakota Moderate Trying to See Purple through All the Red" explains it this way:
For South Dakotan’s that thought Stephanie Herseth Sandlin had gotten too liberal lately (interesting considering she says she is a Democrat) especially in regards to her association with Nancy Pelosi, never fear, she is back on the conservative track that got her elected in the first place.
Saturday the House voted 227-183 and today Bush signed a bill that makes legal the until now illegal NSA eavesdropping program that includes the interception, without warrants, communications that are routed through equipment in United States. Herseth Sandlin was one of 41 Democrats that broke ranks with Pelosi and voted to give the Bush Administration the added power they crave all without judicial oversight.
Every time you think Herseth Sandlin might be acting a little too much like a Democrat, she goes and shows why the conservatives in South Dakota elected her even with that "D" after her name. As she is visiting all of us during the next month or so while Congress is in recess be sure and thank her for voting away another of our Constitutional protections all in the name of Bush’s fear-mongering.
In another post he notes that Herseth Sandlin was not one of the 70 Democrats who signed the letter to President Bush pledging to oppose funding for the war unless it included redeployment of troops out of Iraq. However, he also documents Herseth-hysteria among South Dakota's right-wing bloggers and politicos. He claims that she is as high on the Republican hate list as Demon Daschle, despite her votes for a Constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, permanent extension of the PATRIOT Act, and in favor of the defense appropriation without withdrawal deadlines. Maybe they can’t stand it that she voted to protect whistle blowers from employer discrimination and against a photo ID requirement for federal elections and against restrictions on frivolous lawsuits. She advocates for Native Americans and veterans. She even opposed denying non-emergency treatment for people unable to afford the Medicare co-pay.
Finally, there is reproductive freedom. EMILY’s List supported her heavily in both of her 2004 campaigns, along with Planned Parenthood, NOW and NARAL. Herseth missed the "partial-birth" abortion vote of 2003, but the following year she was described in the local press as supporting the ban. She is rated "100% pro-choice" because she voted for embryonic stem-cell research twice and against a smaller bill to restrict interstate transport of minors to get abortions. That was not good enough for local and out-of-state feminists, but was evidently too much for South Dakota Republicans. In 2006 the SD legislature passed a no-exceptions ban on all abortions, and SD citizens organized a successful initiative to rescind it. South Dakota was Ground Zero for abortion rights in 2006, and Stephanie Herseth was silent. The word "abortion" did not appear on her Congressional or campaign websites. Her position was reputed in the SD press to be that, although she opposes abortion personally, she favors abortion rights in principle. Hours of googling did not reveal a documented citation of that or any other sentiment on abortion. In 2006 there was no public word from her on the issue most fundamental to contemporary women’s rights.
South Dakota does not seem to be the kind of state that could support a more progressive Democrat at this time, even if ProgDem could beat the popular Herseth Sandlin in a primary. A Republican would almost certainly be worse. Technically, according to the Washington Post vote rating, Stephanie Herseth Sandlin votes with Democrats 91% of the time, indicating that she saves her "independence" for the big issues. Irregular News gives her a Progressive Action score of 19 and a Regressive Conservative score of 54. Leave an overall rating of her politics to the GovTrack "Ideometer":
http://www.sourcewatch.org/... – Congresspedia comprehensive profile.
http://hersethsandlin.house.gov/ - Congressional website.
http://www.hersethforcongress.org/ - 2006 Campaign website.
http://en.wikipedia.org/... - Wikipedia profile, bio.
http://projects.washingtonpost.com/... - WaPo profile, voting record.
http://hersethsandlin.house.gov/... - Op-Ed Iraq vote defense 3-07.
http://www.govtrack.us/... – GovTrack profile, committees, ideometer.
http://www.opencongress.org/... – Open Congress profile – plus digest of news and blog entries.
http://opensecrets.org/ - Open Secrets profile – fundraising records.
http://opensecrets.org/... – Open Secrets – campaign finance contributions from 2002.
http://www.ontheissues.org/... - On the Issues, summary of Herseth votes on selected issues.
http://www.progressivepunch.org/... – Progressive Punch, ratings of votes on selected issues.
http://www.congress.org/... – Congress.org profile, same stuff.
http://irregularnews.com/... - Irregular News, progressive political rating, plus co-sponsorships, vote ratings.
http://www.dkosopedia.com/... - Daily Kos wiki profile, blogosphere role.
http://www.sdmoderate.com/... - SD blog, A South Dakota Moderate Trying to See Purple Through All the Red (Bob Schwartz) – with cache of all Herseth posts.
http://www.wonkette.com/... - gossip from Wonkette. Also http://www.wonkette.com/...
http://www.pbs.org/... - 2002 PBS profile, bio of Herseth just before entering politics.
http://www.nndb.com/... - NNDB profile, basics.
http://www.usatoday.com/... - USA TODAY article on Herseth 2004 election to full term, position on abortion.
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