9 Investigates: Lawmakers missing crucial votes

by: Jason Stoogenke Updated:

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Some North Carolina lawmakers miss hundreds of votes.
 
You elect them to be your voice in Raleigh, but an Action 9 investigation into months of voting records for the 18 Mecklenburg County senators and representatives shows some are skipping votes you may care about.
 
Voter Johnnie Collins said, "I think they shouldn't be there if they're not going to show up for the meetings and cast their votes." 

Voter Theodore Gaither said, "I think that should be made public so that the next time around we'll all be voting."
 
The Senate and House each had more than 1,000 votes this past session, 2013-1014.  Some lawmakers, like Sen. Jeff Tarte, missed just 2 of them.  Former Sen. Dan Clodfelter missed 236.  And that's just the votes that took place while he was in the Senate.  He resigned in April to take over as Charlotte mayor.  Clodfelter missed votes on fracking, human trafficking, sex offenders, and scams targeting seniors. 
 
Action 9's Jason Stoogenke asked him, "How do you miss so many votes?"  Clodfelter said, like many state lawmakers, he has another job.  He's a lawyer.  And, he says, he had a trial that ended up conflicting with his legislative schedule.  The legislature went longer than expected and the trial, which was supposed to start after session, began sooner.  They overlapped a week and a half.  That alone kept him out of more than 100 votes.
 
Stoogenke:  "Why take the job if you don't know if you can commit to it?"
Clodfelter:  "Well, you can commit to it. And the commitment you make is to do everything to be there when you can be there.  There's just some things you can't change."
 
That's a common defense among politicians who miss a lot of votes.  Still, Clodfelter insists being a good lawmaker is about more than voting.  It's about sponsoring bills, fighting for them in committees, and lining up support, all of which kept him from participating in other votes.
 
"So you make a choice and, sometimes, the choice is: My vote won't matter over here, but, if I don't show up for that bill, the bill isn't going to die," Clodfelter said.
 
On the house side, Rep. Jacqueline Schaffer missed only 6 votes.  Tricia Cotham missed 269, including ones about jobs, capital punishment, home schooling, and whether the state should take part in the health care exchange.  She emailed Action 9, "As a result of being pregnant and diabetic, I had to go to the bathroom a lot so I missed some votes."  She also wrote, "I'm the only legislator to give birth to 2 babies while serving as a legislator. Only mom to an infant."
 
Overall, Action 9 found Mecklenburg County's longtime lawmakers tended to miss more votes than newer ones.  And, Democrats missed more than Republicans-- three times more.

 
Political expert Michael Bitzer says Republicans have such a majority in Raleigh, many Democrats may feel their votes just don't matter.  "So Democrats recognize, 'Hey, I can show up or maybe I don't, the outcome is still going to be the same.'"
 
Maybe so.  The N.C. Democratic Party and Mecklenburg County Democratic party won't say.  Multiple staff members didn't return Action 9 calls or emails over roughly the last two weeks. 
 
Still, Democrat or Republican, one lawmaker experts more from his colleagues.  He said, off the record, he feels it's his job to vote, even if he knows he's outnumbered.  He said bluntly, "If you're elected, your butt should be in the chair, pushing buttons."

To see how many votes the lawmakers who represent you missed and how they compare to other politicians: CLICK HERE or CLICK HERE.