Utah's Republicans in Congress say new ratings by special-interest groups show Rep. Bill Orton, D-Utah, has been a closet liberal masquerading as a moderate to help get himself re-elected.
But Orton says they're proof instead that those Republicans are all radical right-wing extremists whose unwillingness to compromise brings legislative gridlock ruining the country.Such arguments spring from agreement by groups across the political spectrum that Utah's four Republicans in Congress are among the most conservative - and that Orton is a moderate whose scores appeared more liberal amid GOP takeover of the House.
The Deseret News collected 1995 report cards on Congress by 18 special-interest groups, ranging from the American Conservative Union and Christian Coalition on the right to the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans for Democratic Action on the left.
Utah's Republicans in Congress - Sens. Orrin Hatch and Bob Bennett and Reps. Jim Hansen and Enid Greene (formerly Waldholtz) - often had "perfect" scores of 100 from conservative-leaning groups, and "worst-possible" scores of zero from liberal groups.
That meant they are among the most conservative of all members, no matter who was grading them based on votes most important to those groups.
Orton generally had midrange scores from all groups, although they tended more toward the left than in previous years.
For example, the left-leaning AFL-CIO labor union gave him a rating of 75 out of 100 in 1995 - the first year of Republican control of the House in 40 years - which was more than twice as high as the 33 he received in 1994 during Democratic control.
Right-wing groups had similar assessments. For example, the
American Conservative Union had given Orton a relatively high 79 out of 100 in 1994, but that plummeted to a 32 last year.
"His votes last year gave a more clear picture of who he really is because he didn't have Democratic Party giving him coverage on votes" through extra ballots on amendments unlikely to pass that would moderate his averages, Greene said.
Bennett added, "He probably feels more compelled to line up with Democratic leadership with Republicans in charge."
But Orton said, "I'm voting the way I've always voted. What's changed is that Republicans control the agenda. In the past if I opposed a rule brought by Demo-crat-ic leadership, I was considered a maverick. Now if I oppose a rule brought by Republicans, I'm a nasty liberal."
He added, "Groups preparing scorecards pick and choose which votes to score based on what's important to them. Labor had many votes to choose from when Democrats were in charge. Now they may only have a few. That is what changes the scores."
And Orton says he opposes extreme positions on the right and left, and feels House Speaker Newt Gingrich has been pushing a far-right agenda - while he also complains that Democratic leaders push an agenda that is too far to the left.
"Like the people I represent, I am trying to find solutions back here - and they usually aren't on the extremes but are in the middle," he said.
"The problem in Congress is most people almost always vote with their party regardless of the issue and won't compromise. That's why we have gridlock," he added. "The other four in the delegation are radical extremists, and I am a moderate."
But the Republicans in the delegation contend it is better to be either a conservative or liberal than a moderate.
"I think you've got to stand for something. Frankly, these fellows that are always looking to see which way is better for re-election generally turn out to be moderate," Hatch said.
He added, "Those who walk down the middle of the street generally get hit by both sides. You have to stand for something here. Those who are always in the middle generally are looking for ways to sustain them in political life rather than doing what's right for their constituents."
Orton disagrees and says it is not only better to be a moderate - but it is also tougher politically.
"Most activists and leaders in both parties are extremists, and they provide most of the money and volunteers. But they are usually only concerned with a few issues important to them. They don't get excited about moderates trying to look at the big picture," he said.
So he said it is harder for moderates to raise money and win nominations in their own parties "be-cause activists would rather rally around someone who is leading their fight."
In fact, most special-interest report cards are designed to help groups tell their members who is leading and opposing their fights. But all Utah members say they have never changed a vote to improve ratings by any group.
"I am a former small-business man, and because of my background I probably vote most of the time the way the National Federation of Independent Business would prefer. But I never check with them to see what they are going to score or how to vote," Bennett said.
While report cards are often used to help members of their groups decide on whom to give contributions, they aren't a perfect guide on how groups will react.
For example, after Orton received a low 34 out of 100 from the AFL-CIO in 1994, he still has managed to raise $28,000 from labor political action committees toward his 1996 election - or 15 percent of the total money he has raised so far.
Labor - before new ratings came out - likely figured that the conservatives who Orton has generally faced would be tougher on them than him.
1995 ratings of Utah Congressional delegation by national special interest groups.
Ratings are from a low of 0 to a high of 100
Sen. Sen. Rep. Rep. Rep.
Orrin Bob Jim Enid Bill
Hatch Bennett Hansen Greene Orton
American Conservative Union 100 100 92 92 32
Christian Coalition 91 90 92 92 62
U.S. Chamber of Commerce 100 100 100 96 54
National Federation of Independent 100 100 93 93 61
League of Private Property Voters 100 100 100 100 73
60 Plus Association (Senior 100 100 100 100 20
Center for Security Policy 95 89 100 100 30
National Taxpayers Union 86 85 83 86 46
Citizens Against Government Waste 68 68 65 76 44
Public Citizen Congress Watch 0 0 13 40 60
Consumer Federation of America 0 0 0 0 38
Business & Professional Women 38 38 0 0 25
AFL-CIO (Labor Union) 0 0 0 0 75
National Council of Senior Citizens 0 0 11 20 70
League of Conservation Voters 0 0 0 8 31
National Abortion Rights Action 2 2 1 0 3
American Civil Liberties Union 17 27 8 8 33
Americans for Democratic Action 0 0 0 0 65