Analysis: Peterson, Heitkamp vote often against party, Hoeven closer to party line
Northwest Minnesota's U.S. representative and North Dakota's Democratic senator are near the top of a list of congressional members who voted against their party last year, while North Dakota's Republican senator ranked last.
Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., and Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., each ranked second for voting against their party during the 115th Congress, according to watchdog website ProPublica. Heitkamp voted against her party 22.5 percent of the time, while Peterson did so with 27.3 percent of his votes.
They were beat in their respective chambers by Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., (39 percent) and Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va. (26.5 percent), according to ProPublica's database.
Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., was ranked first in the Senate for voting most consistently with his party. He said he believes he has represented North Dakota well.
"I think we are on the right agenda this year," Hoeven said, pointing to an improved economy compared with recent years.
Peterson called himself a conservative Democrat, adding voting in Congress has become more polarized. Both he and Heitkamp said they are in Congress to represent their constituents and not their parties.
"You probably have about 90 percent of the House that votes party-line," he said. "You might as well send a robot out here."
Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., voted against their parties about 3 percent of the time, according to the database. Cramer ranked 371st out of 433 while Klobuchar, who has been in the Senate since 2007, ranked 56th out of 100.
Cramer, who took office in 2013, said he felt the GOP leadership is aligned with the needs of his state.
"I'm very grateful that the Republican agenda is the North Dakota agenda," he said.
The the 115th Congress voting record for Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., was not available on ProPublica, though previous sessions show him voting against his party about 5 percent of the time or less since taking office in 2009. Franken resigned Jan. 2 amid multiple sexual misconduct allegations.
He was replaced by Minnesota Lt. Gov. Tina Smith, who was sworn into office Wednesday, Jan. 3.
The numbers can change each session, Hoeven said. He himself has deviated further from his party in the past.
"That would have been in times when I didn't think we were on the right agenda like we are now," he said.
In the 112th session—his first when he took his seat in 2011—he voted against his party 18.4 percent of the time, according to ProPublica. That put him in 10th on the Senate list for 2011-12.
Hoeven ranked more toward the middle of his chamber in the following years, going against his party with 8.3 percent of his votes and 7.7 percent during the 113th (2013-14) and 114th (2015-16) sessions, respectively.
Heitkamp's ranking is similar to the 114th, when she voted against her party 21.4 percent of the time for sixth place. She voted against her party 5.3 percent of the time during her first session from 2013-14.
Peterson's rates have fluctuated over the years, ranging mostly from 19 percent to the mid-30s. His lowest came in the 111th session (2009-10) when he voted against his party 7.8 percent of the time. His highest was 43.9 percent in the 112th.
Klobuchar and Cramer have lingered in the single digits on the list.
Klobuchar was unavailable for a phone interview, but in a statement to the Herald, her office touted a Medill News Service analysis saying she was the top senator in sponsoring or co-sponsoring the most bills that became law in 2016.
“Sen. Klobuchar has a record of representing Minnesota and getting important legislation passed and signed into law by the President,” Klobuchar spokesman Ben Hill said in the statement. “It hasn’t always been easy to bring people together the last couple years, but she has worked hard to find common ground where she can get things done for our state.”
Constituents should look at how Congress members vote on each piece of legislation and not just at whether they vote against their party, Cramer said.
"The premise of your questioning is built on somehow there is something noble about voting against your party, even if voting against your party is voting against your state," he said. "The only criteria that should matter is how often you vote for North Dakota, not how often you vote against the Democratic Party."
Heitkamp called herself someone who "does the nitty-gritty work by sitting down with those in both parties to work together and get results for North Dakota" during a time in which partisanship and gridlocks are normal in Congress.
"On the other hand, there's no courage in just voting the way your party tells you and working with only those on one side of the aisle because that doesn't serve North Dakota," she said.
Each member of Congress has a party, but Heitkamp said the most important team is that delegate's constituency. North Dakotans are "fiercely independent," she said.
"Is North Dakota's interest always 100 percent aligned with the Democratic Party? I would say the answer is no," she said. "But I also don't think North Dakota's interest is always 100 percent aligned with the Republican Party."