December 11, 2013 9:51:06 AM
Slim Smith - [email protected]
Officially, Alan Nunnelee represents Mississippi's first Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Halfway through is second term in Congress, I am beginning to wonder who he really represents, though.
Tuesday, a group called Food Policy Action released its Food Policy Scorecard. According to its website, Food Policy Action was established in 2012 through a collaboration of national food policy leaders in order to hold legislators accountable on votes that have an effect on food and farming.
While the makeup of the group's board of directors suggests a definite left-leaning orientation, its detailed accounting of how each national legislator has voted on food-related issues provides some interesting insight how our leaders view these issues.
For Mississippians, food policy would seem to be a priority for our legislators.
The state ranks first in food insecurity, defined by the USDA as a condition in which "consistent access to adequate food is limited by a lack of money and other resources at times during the year." By that standard, 20.9 percent of Mississippi residents are food insecure. Mississippi's 22.8 percent poverty rate is also highest in the nation while per capita income of $33,073 is the lowest in the nation.
Given those grim realities, you would expect our legislators to be strong advocates when it comes to legislation that Food Policy Action advocates -- policies the group says support healthy diets, reduce hunger, improve food access and affordability, uphold the rights and dignity of food and farm workers, increase transparency, improve public health, reduce the risk of food-borne illness, support local and regional food systems, treat farm animals humanely and reduce the environmental impact of farming and food production.
When Mississippi's Congressional delegation returns home for Christmas break, they might want to hide their Food Policy Action report card.
This is especially true for Nunnelee, who scored a big fat zero.
Even if you weigh those scores for "liberal bias," scoring a zero strongly suggests a complete lack of regard for the serious issues of food policy that are particularly relevant to Mississippians. Nunnelee's voting record on these issues shows an indifference to suffering that is deeply troubling.
His record on food policy further demonstrates that for Nunnelee, every vote is a matter of political ideology.
Let's be clear here: We should not expect our congressmen to compromise their ideals or principles.
But we should expect them to compromise on policy. It is how things get done.
The trouble with Nunnelee is that he seems to view every bill that comes before him as a question of ideology and he has never wavered from taking the most politically-conservative position.
When it comes to real ideological issues -- things such as abortion or gay marriage or even healthcare -- no one should be alarmed by Nunnelee's position. He ran as a conservative and was elected as a conservative.
But the real key to effective leadership is recognizing that not all issues are essential to preserving "traditional conservative values."
It is a lesson that Nunnelee is unwilling to learn.
Probably the best example of that intransigence was Nunnelee's vote on the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013, a bill that reauthorized the "Violence Against Women Act" for fiscal years 2014 through 2018. Nunnelee voted against that bill, which passed by a wide margin, and his reasoning was clear -- he had voted for an amendment to the bill that struck out language included "gender identity" (better known as trans-gender) for protection. When that amendment failed, Nunnelee voted against the original bill that included the gender identity protections.
It was a clear example of throwing the baby out with the bath water. Nunnelee's ideological opposition to the idea of "gender identity" was more important to him than the protection the bill offered thousands of women in the U.S. who are potential victims of violence.
Likewise, Nunnelee voted against a bill that would have required oil and gas companies to reveal what chemicals are used to extract oil and gas through hydraulic fracturing. Is there anyone who could find fault in that? Nunnelee voted no for another reason -- the bill gave oversight to the federal government. And in Nunnelee's world, it was another assault by "big government." In light of his votes on issues like food policy, violence against women and transparency from oil/gas companies, it is growing more and more obvious that Nunnelee doesn't represent the people of the First Congressional District. He represents an ideology, often at the expense of those same people.
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]