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What we can learn from the Press about Vern Ehlers

February 12, 2010

For the past two days the local news media has been running stories about the decision of Representative Vern Ehlers to decline another run at the 3rd Congressional District seat.

On Thursday, the Grand Rapids Press continued this coverage with three additional articles, one on who might declare candidacy for the 3rd Congressional District and two that wax fondly about the soon to be retired Congressman.

The first piece was an opinion piece by editorial writer Jeff Cranson, with the headline “We can learn from Vern.” The story reads as a sort of farewell piece where Congressman Ehlers says, “In the old days, they (congressional representatives) played golf together, they had dinner at each other’s houses. That adds a lot to the civility. That just doesn’t happen, anymore.” I’m not sure what the point of this statement is, but does it mean that when members of Congress played golf together they treated each other with more respect?

The rest of the opinion piece reflects on Ehlers refusal to seek the spotlight, his love of science and his willingness to speak with the media.

The second piece from Press reporter Jim Harger, in many ways reads like the piece from Jeff Cranson. The story reflects on Ehlers sense of civility, but it also talks about how Ehlers felt proud to be compared to former President Gerald Ford. “Probably the greatest honor I’ve had is when people tell me I resemble Jerry Ford.

It seems a bit premature to be waxing eloquently about Congressman Ehlers, especially since he has 10 more months to serve in Congress. You would think that the Press would wait til then to shower praises on the former Calvin College professor.

All of this positive coverage of Ehlers seems to conflict with a fundamental tenet of journalism, which is to be a watchdog of political power. Ehlers has a voting record and should be held accountable to that record.

In the stories that have run in the past few days the only concrete comments about Ehlers voting record was to say that Ehlers was an environmentalist. According to the League of Conservation Voters Ehlers only scored a 69% when voting on environmental issues in 2008, compared to the 100% score that Senators Stabenow and Levin scored.

This is the kind of information that the Press should be sharing with its readers, information that is based on Ehlers track record as a representative for the 3rd District, not his love of science and what he thinks about civility.

The Press could be sharing with its readers a regular summary of Ehlers voting record by using the resources at Project Vote Smart, which has an archive of Ehlers’ voting record. The only daily newspaper in the 3rd Congressional District could also provide the area voters with information on who has provided money to Ehlers over the years and how that has influenced his voting decisions. This is the kind of journalism Grand Rapids needs, not stories praising public servants because they take calls from the media on Saturday mornings.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. joethecabdriver permalink
    February 12, 2010 2:17 am

    69% on environmental issues makes him John Muir compared to other Republicans.

  2. February 12, 2010 2:21 am

    while I agree that Ehlers has a better environmental voting record than most republicans, but that has more to do with him living in a safe district, so he can buck party lines when he wants to. I didn’t even mention is voting record on trade issues, where he always sided with big business and he has voted for every war funding bill while he has been in Congress. John Muir was also against war, so Ehlers was no where near the kind of person John Muir was.

  3. Y.B. Ordinary permalink
    February 12, 2010 4:06 pm

    I’m an environmental activist who has had several meetings with Congressman Ehlers in the last year to promote clean-energy and green-jobs legislation.
    The Congressman talks favorably about these issues, and is quick to cite his long-time support for environmental legislation and action, going back to his days on the Kent County Commission.
    But since President Obama was elected, the Congressman has hued to the Republican party line without exception, always saying he has “problems” with any bill put forth or supported by the environmental community. Consequently, unless you are talking to the local “corporate environmentalists”, Mr. Ehlers is not considered supportive of environmental issues.
    Could this change with his lame-duck status? If he doesn’t have to worry about some tea-party crazy trying to steal his seat from the right, will it free him to vote his conscience, or his true beliefs? I don’t know; perhaps we’ll see something like that. But I don’t think local greens will be holding their collective breath until Vern is on our side.

  4. jim permalink
    February 12, 2010 5:35 pm

    Ehlers is an advocate of nuclear power. Any discussion of Ehlers as an environmentalist is laughable at best.

    Progressives, Democrats, liberals, etc are all responsible for propping up the myth that Ehlers was an environmentalist. Every time you applaud him for being better than other Republicans, you enhance that myth.

  5. Jeff Smith permalink*
    February 12, 2010 6:00 pm

    thanks to the last few comments from people. I agree that in any serious discussion of environmentalism Ehlers could not be considered an environmentalist. While is voting record may not be as draconian as other elected officials, that is beside the point in the larger picture. Ehlers, like most members of Congress support a capitalist system, which is in an of itself unsustainable. It is unfortunate that groups like the Sierra Club in West Michigan have supported Ehlers over the years, because their platform is too narrow to take into consideration a comprehensive view of environmentalism. So, I agree with Jim’s comment about how the myth of Ehlers as an environmentalist is perpetuated.

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