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Long Island

LI's Democratic and GOP reps in Congress move to the middle

The United States Capitol building is seen in

The United States Capitol building is seen in Washington on Sept. 29, 2013. Credit: Getty Images / Win McNamee

WASHINGTON - Long Island's representatives to Congress have moved closer to the ideological center in the past three years as the House has become more polarized between the left and right, an analysis of their voting records and ratings shows.

The landscape shifted after the 2010 election swept dozens of tea party-aligned candidates into office, purging Democratic moderates and pulling the GOP to the right as it captured a ruling majority in the House.

Long Island's four Democrats and one Republican find themselves pushed toward the middle and bucking their parties: The Democrats by voting for defense funding and national security measures, notably the Patriot Act, and Rep. Pete King (R-Seaford) voting to avoid government shutdowns and for billions of dollars in superstorm Sandy aid that faced fierce conservative resistance.

Nowhere is the effect of the ideological divide more pronounced than with King, who finds himself ranked by the National Journal as dead-center in the 435-member House.

"My position within in the party has changed, even though my views are basically the same," said King, a pragmatic blue-state Republican who is also a national security hawk and social conservative. "The ground has shifted a bit."

That's also true, to a lesser extent, for Long Island's Democrats: Reps. Tim Bishop of Southampton, Steve Israel of Huntington, Carolyn McCarthy of Mineola, who's retiring this year, and Gary Ackerman of Roslyn Heights, who retired in 2012. Democratic Rep. Gregory Meeks has represented a small part of Nassau County since 2013, and has a consistently liberal record, reflecting his larger Queens constituency.

Those trends emerged from an analysis of the Long Island delegation's voting records, House vote scorecards kept by advocacy groups and the annual ratings by the nonpartisan National Journal from 2003 to 2013. There are no longer any Long Island Democrats among the 100 most liberal. King doesn't rank among the 200 most conservative.

A review of voting records and liberal/conservative ratings showed that during the past decade, Ackerman, Bishop and Israel at times voted more liberally than the average House Democrat.

But in the past three years, all the Long Island Democrats had voting records less liberal than their party's average, which is farther left now than at any point in the past decade, according to the National Journal's annual ratings.

They rejected liberal budgets proposed by the House black and progressive caucuses, for example, and voted against additional funding for civil liberties oversight of federal surveillance programs.

Another sign of that change appears in the scorecard of the Americans for Democratic Action, a liberal advocacy group that has applied its ideological litmus test to members of Congress since 1947: In 2012, Long Island Democrats got their lowest ADA scores in a decade.

The analysis covers an era in which the same five lawmakers represented Long Island for 10 years -- until redistricting and retirements at the close of 2012 -- as partisanship in the House rose to its highest in decades.

Voting records and their ratings are significantly shaped by who controls the House and the bills that come up for votes. But the voting by New Yorkers also was profoundly affected by the 9/11 terror attacks, leading them to become more hawkish on national security bills.

The Democrats and King still vote regularly with their parties on most issues. King and McCarthy have most often broken ranks.

The delegation votes together on parochial issues, and generally supports McCarthy's signature issue -- gun control -- with some exceptions by King.

The region's Democrats and King also nearly always hew to party lines on federal spending and taxes, health care, immigration, the environment, abortion and gay and lesbian rights.

Here are voting record profiles for each politician:


Tim Bishop, D-SouthamptonFirst elected 2002.

Nothing shows the House ideological shift better than Bishop's record in 2004 and 2012: the National Journal gave him the same liberal score both years, but his rank among the 200 or so Democrats dropped from 101st most liberal to 141st.

Bishop is a mainstream Democrat whose top issues include the environment, education and labor unions. He began as a moderate, swing liberal and recently became moderate again.

As a defender of the Affordable Care Act, Bishop surprised some recently by breaking ranks and voting for GOP bills to use the act's funds to keep student-loan interest rates low and to allow people to keep their health insurance plans.

Bishop said his votes reflect the concerns of people he represents, the views of experts he consults and the need to protect middle-class families.


Steve Israel, D-HuntingtonFirst elected 2000.

Israel votes more like a mainstream Democrat now than when he first came to Congress as a conservative-leaning "Blue Dog" -- particularly since 2011, when he became chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Still, he has broken from his party's majority to vote for extending the Patriot Act, for military spending, some tax bills, funding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and nuclear-weapons technology and programs.

"Like my constituents, I tend to lean toward the right on issues of national security and defense, while I am more progressive on issues like women's rights and investing in education and protecting our environment," he said in a statement.


Peter King, R-Seaford

First elected 1992.

King always has been a maverick Republican, but these days he finds himself in the ideological middle. The National Journal ranks him 214th most liberal and 217th most conservative in the 435-member House.

In the past three years, King has battled against the tea party push for a government shutdown. He also fights libertarians he contends would undercut strong national security. The American Conservative Union says it considers King "a liberal Republican." But King insists: "My votes are genuine conservative votes."

King opposes abortion, gay rights and many social programs. But he broke with conservatives by voting to fund food stamps and to preserve federal programs such as the Legal Services Corp. and against anti-union measures.


Carolyn McCarthy, D-MineolaFirst elected 1996.

Though best known for her gun-control campaign, McCarthy has consistently been the most moderate Long Island Democrat in the House.

In the past two years, her liberal ratings were their lowest in a decade. She has split from the majority of Democrats on national security, defense and financial issues.

She voted for repealing the estate tax in 2005. Though on medical leave much of last year, she said she would have voted with the GOP and a few dozen Democrats to ease Dodd-Frank Wall Street regulations.

Noting she won her seat on the Democrat line in 1996 while still a registered Republican, McCarthy said she thinks of herself as an independent.


Gary Ackerman,

D-Roslyn HeightsFirst elected 1993; retired 2012.

Ackerman long served as the liberal lion of the Long Island delegation, but in his final two years in office, his liberal score hit its lowest points in 10 years.

Supportive of his party on economic and social issues, Ackerman broke with liberals to reject defunding the Afghan war and to back a South Korea trade pact. He cast an unexpected vote for a GOP bill to force President Barack Obama to set a date for making a Keystone XL oil pipeline decision.


Gregory Meeks, D-QueensFirst elected 1998.

In 2012, congressional district lines were redrawn, giving the Queens-based Meeks a foothold in Nassau County.

Meeks' strong liberal voting record reflects city issues, and he has had only a little more than a year representing Valley Stream, Elmont and Inwood in Nassau.

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