Accountability in the New Congress

Just over a week ago, Politico ran a story noting that Justin Amash, a newly-elected House member from Michigan, had already voted “present” more often than his predecessor had in eight years. The story suggested that Amash was trying to avoid electoral responsibility for tough votes by voting present. In general, the story suggested that his “present” votes were a failure in some way to meet his responsibilities as a representative.

You can read Amash’s take on all this at his Facebook page. Although I have never met Amash, I have followed his political career over the past year or so. In Michigan, he emphasized  transparency and accountability. He reported and explained his votes on his Facebook page. He is continuing to do that here in Washington. Does that sound like a politician trying to avoid accountability?

Politico also reported some of Amash’s reasons for voting “present”: when he does not have “reasonable” time to review the legislation, when called upon to choose “between programs he hasn’t been given time to study,” when he has “procedural or constitutional concerns about a piece of legislation that has desirable ends,” and when he has a “substantial conflict of interest” — a situation that has not yet happened.

Amash sounds like a representative trying to take his obligations seriously. Apparently he feels he owes his constituents his best judgment about bills before the House and, absent enough time, he refuses to delegate his judgment to party elders or to mere caprice. It says something about the culture of the capital that Amash’s sense of fidelity to those who elected him occasions complaint.

The latest from Politico on Justin Amash confirms this impression. Among House GOP freshmen, he is the least likely to vote for the position taken by a majority of his class. That might be cause for concern since the GOP freshmen seem intent on cutting government spending. But I really doubt that Amash has gone native in DC. He is voting with the other GOP freshmen 70 percent of the time. It is possible that the other 30 percent of his votes reflect a concern for liberty or what he sees as the good of his constituents. Sometimes there is a great difference between being a party man and being a friend of liberty and a faithful representative.

More than a few Washington insiders are probably saying Amash is off to a rough start in his congressional career. I disagree. What I have seen so far, including these criticisms of him, confirm what I have thought for some time: Justin Amash is one of the most interesting and potentially important representatives to come to DC in a long time.