(This is a long post. Hang in there and review the evidence.)
(Fact checks are encouraged and welcomed.)
Mr. Westerman has represented the 4th Congressional District since 2014. In that time, I don’t believe there has been a serious evaluation of his performance as our representative. He is overdue.
Over the last twenty-five years, I have spent about fifteen years in classrooms evaluating the performance of students in two-year, four-year and graduate (law) educational institutions. I pride myself on being a fair and objective grader and in all my years of teaching – no student has launched a formal challenge against the grade assigned. That’s because I communicated expectations and used uniform and consistent criteria to evaluate their performance.
You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to know some of the issues important to Arkansas. I won’t try to list them all. While others may compile a different list, the following areas are a good place to start: Voting rights and voter participation; Affordable Medical Care; Education & Jobs; Criminal Justice Reform; Women’s Rights; Food Insecurity (Hunger); and Protecting our Environment. Here is a look at his performance in these areas.
Voting Rights and Voter Participation:
In 2018, Arkansas ranked 49th in voter turnout, and the majority of our voter eligible population did not cast a ballot. If someone truly believes in democracy, why would you want to make it difficult for people to participate? Three of Mr. Westerman’s votes call into question his commitment to citizen participation.
- He voted against the Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2019 (now called the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act). The Act addresses discriminatory practices that disproportionately prevent minorities, the elderly, and the youth from voting.
- He also voted against the For The People Act of 2019, a law that would have provided automatic voter registration for eligible citizens and made election day a holiday.
- Finally, and most importantly, he voted against the Shield Act of 2019, a law requiring campaigns to report harmful (e.g., foreign) interference in the electoral process. No one but Americans should determine who we elect to represent us.
The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed the gaps in our healthcare industry both in terms of infrastructure and medical coverage. If there ever was a case for universal medical coverage, the coronavirus has made it.
- Despite the fact that the majority of Americans approve of the Affordable Care Act, Mr. Westerman has voted to repeal it.
- He also voted against the Protecting Americans with Preexisting Conditions Act, the Lower Drug Costs Now Act, and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Enhancement Act, all of which were designed to improve healthcare for Americans.
- Mr. Westerman may point out that he introduced the Fair Care Act, his market-based approach to healthcare. It should be noted, however, that he has no co-sponsors (not even from his own party) and that the bill has no chance of passing.
Education & Jobs:
The timber industry is a major part of our economy. Over the last few years, we have seen several paper mill closings and lost opportunities (e.g., Georgia-Pacific in Crossett and Hope, Domtar in Ashdown, Sun Paper (China) deal to build a paper mill in Arkadelphia).
- Mr. Westerman often mentions his status as the only certified forester in the congress but there is little evidence that his connections and expertise have translated into jobs for Arkansas and the 4th District.
- While the timber industry is a mainstay for Arkansas, we have to attract other industries to the district. We have fourteen educational institutions in the 4th District that need to play a more crucial role in workforce development. Although Mr. Westerman understands the importance of this relationship, I don’t see where he is actively working on it. Mr. Westerman hasn’t translated his words into deeds.
- NEWS FLASH: Mr. Westerman voted against the minimum wage passed by Arkansas voters (68%) in 2018.
Everyone knows by now that I support a woman’s right to choose and Mr. Westerman does not. Let’s just leave that for now because women’s rights extend beyond reproductive rights.
- In Arkansas, women 18 and over earn $0.80 on the dollar compared to men. Yet, Mr. Westerman voted against the Paycheck Fairness Act which would have closed loopholes in the Equal Pay Act.
- If women earned equal pay with men, it would cut the poverty rate for employed women in Arkansas by half.
- He also voted against the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2019.
In 2016, Arkansas ranked fourth in female homicide victims murdered by males in single victim/single offender incidents.
- During this pandemic, there is increased concern for those caught in domestic violence situations – unable to resort to the courts, which are closed and unable to leave because of stay-at-home orders.
Criminal Justice Reform:
The Racial Disparities in the Arkansas Criminal Justice System Research Project (William H. Bowen School of Law – 2015) pointed out that significant racial disparities exist throughout our criminal justice system. Here are a few statistics.
- Between 2012 and 2017, Arkansas had the fastest growing prison population in the country.
- In 2017, the Black adult incarceration rate was four times as high as the white incarceration rate.
- Despite accounting for only 15% of the adult population in Arkansas, African Americans accounted for 42% of the prison population in 2017.
- In Arkansas, because of felony disenfranchisement, almost 8% of the adult African American population has lost the right to vote.
The law of statistics informs me that something is inherently wrong here. However, I have heard little from Mr. Westerman on this issue. Also, his position on Confederate statues suggest to me that he, perhaps, lacks sensitivity to the concerns of his African American constituents.
Mr. Westerman’s performance in this area is inconsistent, particularly with regards to ensuring that our farmers have enough workers to produce our food. Mr. Westerman should know that food security is national security. First, a little background.
- In 2018, Arkansas ranked second in food insecurity.
- Even before the pandemic, 1 in 5 Arkansans didn’t know where their next meal would come from and 25% of children in the state were at risk.
- Because of the pandemic, 33% of our children are now at risk for hunger.
In March, 2020, Congressman Westerman signed on to a bi-partisan, bi-cameral letter pressing the Trump administration to continue processing H-2A visa applications to maintain access to vetted temporary workers that support America’s agriculture industry while we battle this coronavirus pandemic. Yet, Mr. Westerman just a few months earlier (December 2019) voted against the Farmworkers Modernization Act of 2019 which would authorize the Department of Homeland Security to grant certified agriculture worker status to undocumented workers (already here) and performing agriculture labor provided that they submitted an application and paid fees.
Protecting our Environment:
In Arkansas, our industries, agriculture, timber, and outdoor tourism, depend on protecting and maintaining our environment. Mr. Westerman is the ranking member on the sub-committee on Water Resources and the Environment. Under most circumstances, having a such a well-placed representative would be great for a state. Not so in this case. His National Environmental Scorecard from the League of Conservation Voters is 3% for 2019 and a 1% lifetime score.
Looking at Mr. Westerman’s actions (or lack thereof) across these seven areas, it seems that politics, not good public policy, drives many of his votes.