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Republican candidate for Congress Dan Sebring chose a simple way to measure the performance of U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore in a hard-hitting radio ad: The roll call of votes.
The ad includes an audio clip of Moore, a four-term member of Congress, screaming "Scott Walker, you gotta go, baby, ‘cause we don’t want you no more!" Sebring, who is challenging Moore for a second time, then reminds listeners in north shore Milwaukee suburbs that, due to redistricting, Moore is now their representative.
Then he turns to the ad’s main point:
"Gwen Moore is Wisconsin’s most absent member of Congress, missing nearly 17 percent of the House votes in the second quarter of 2012."
Is Sebring right?
His campaign did not respond to requests for backup, but Sebring, who runs an auto repair shop, elaborates on his website.
The site says the attendance claim is based on data compiled by GovTrack.us, an independent site founded in 2004 that that follows legislation, tracks the voting record of individual lawmakers and -- among other things -- monitors missed votes by each member of Congress.
GovTrack breaks down the missed votes into quarters while the congressional calendar runs on a two-year session, with lengthy breaks for holidays, the month of August, and -- typically -- re-election season.
In the second quarter of 2012, GovTrack says there were 299 votes -- the most in any quarter in the current session. Moore missed 50 votes, or 16.7 percent, the site says.
In the first quarter, Moore missed 23 of 151 votes, or 15.2 percent. In the third quarter it was 5 of 152, or 3.3 percent, which is more consistent with the first year of the term.
In the second quarter, the one cited by Sebring, the missed votes easily put Moore at the top of the state’s eight-member House delegation.
In the quarter, Republicans Paul Ryan, F. James Sensenbrenner, and Reid Ribble missed zero votes; Democrat Tammy Baldwin missed 21, or 7 percent; Democrat Ron Kind missed 12, or 4 percent, and Republicans Sean Duffy and Tom Petri missed one, 0.3 percent.
But the numbers don’t tell the whole story.
We asked Moore’s campaign to respond to the missed votes claim. Her campaign’s political director, Moore’s sister, Brenda, referred us to congressional chief of staff Minh Ta.
Ta said Moore was dealing with a family crisis during the first part of this year. Her older sister, Yvonne, suffered a brain aneurysm and underwent surgery in St. Louis in early March 2012. Later that month, during rehabilitation, Moore’s sister suffered a stroke. In April, she was moved to Milwaukee, where she is in an assisted living facility.
Moore was with her sister off and on throughout the surgery, rehabilitation and move, Ta said.
Ta said he could not be more precise about the number of days Moore was away from Washington, but said it was a significant family crisis that extended over two months -- and over the first two quarters of the year.
"She strives to make every vote as much as she can," Ta said. "Like every normal person, she’s got family crises and so forth."
But what about the other part of Sebring’s claim, that Moore is the "most absent" member of the state delegation?
You can use the GovTrack data to get a picture for the fulls session, which began seven quarters ago in January 2011. That’s a good point of reference, since it puts first-termers Ribble and Duffy on the same footing as the rest.
Looking at the full session, Moore missed 112 votes, or 6.98 percent. If you take out the first two quarters of 2012, Moore missed an average of 3.4 percent of the votes in the other five quarters of this session.
So, it’s clear Sebring did some cherry-picking by citing only the second quarter.
But that approach still puts Moore at the top of the chart for this session of Congress. The next highest was Ryan, who is running for vice president. Ryan missed 42 votes (or 27.6 percent) in the third quarter. But even when that is factored in, he winds up at 3.09 percent missed for the term.
Baldwin, who has been campaigning for a U.S. Senate seat, comes in at 3.03 percent missed votes for the session.
Overall, the state delegation missed an average of 2.53 percent of the votes this session. That compares with the median of 2.5 percent for all of Congress, according to GovTrack.
In her total time in Congress, starting with January of 2005, Moore has missed 5 percent of votes, also at the top of the charts. Ryan, Baldwin, Kind, Sensenbrenner, Duffy and Ribble all missed 2 percent, while Petri missed 1 percent. That, again, compares to the median of 2.5 percent, according to GovTrack.
Sebring says Moore is the state’s "most absent" member of Congress and that she missed 17 percent of the House votes in the second quarter of 2012.
Indeed, Moore missed nearly 17 percent of the votes in the second quarter. That is Moore’s worst quarter, but it also amounts to Sebring doing some cherry-picking of data. A longer period shows a lower percentage, but even that places Moore at the top of the state’s eight-member delegation.
We rate the statement Mostly True.
Dan Sebring radio ad, Oct. 1, 2012
Dan Sebring website
New York Times,"Congess’ voting records show few with perfect attendance," Oct. 31, 2011
Interviews, Minh Ta, chief of staff, Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.), Oct. 2, 3, 2012
The Hill, "Focused on presidential bid, Ron Paul has missed 92% of votes in 2012," April 5, 2012
New York Times, "Top House Vote Missers"
GovTrack.us voting record for Wisconsin delegation
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