- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 20, 2008

Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest, Maryland Republican, this week continued his 17-year political tradition of casting votes he thinks are right — regardless of whether they please party leaders — siding Tuesday with Democrats on an energy bill that strictly limits new drilling opportunities that the Republican Party pursued all summer.

Mr. Gilchrest hasn’t let his loss in the Feb. 12 primary change him much. He’s still showing up for work, although he’s missed about twice as many votes as he did earlier this term, largely procedural or ceremonial votes. And he’s still voting against his party’s wishes, albeit slightly less often than before the primaries, according to a Capital News Service analysis of congressional voting records.

His record of bucking his own party was central to his primary loss to state Sen. Andrew P. Harris of Baltimore County, who argued that after nine terms on Capitol Hill, Mr. Gilchrest was no longer in tune with his conservative district.

“We have policy goals that will be ongoing,” Mr. Gilchrest said. “We have been working for the last so many months on issues related to the Chesapeake Bay, global warming, energy, the war in Iraq.”

Mr. Gilchrest’s stance on the war was another weapon for his opponents, who rallied conservative Republicans to demand his exit.

In March last year, Mr. Gilchrest helped Democrats narrowly pass a bill requiring President Bush to set deadlines for troop withdrawals in Iraq. Although the bill was later vetoed, his position created a stir that angered the Republican base.

“It seems that the vote did anger some Republicans,” said Harry Basehart, professor emeritus of political science at Salisbury University. “I’m beginning to think that vote was more important than I thought it was [at the time].”

Mr. Harris, the Republican nominee for the district, said in January: “[Mr. Gilchrest’s] votes against troops … tarnished his reputation beyond repair with Republican primary voters.”

But like his other votes — often against the Republican Party line — Mr. Gilchrest wouldn’t take it back, even to save his political career.

“I didn’t regret that at all,” he said. “Whenever I voted, I voted based on good, solid information, not shifting sand, not political reasons. If I could have voted in a different way and won the primary, what would that have said about my integrity?”

Those aisle-crossing votes have dropped to 17 percent of Mr. Gilchrest’s yeas and nays, down from 24 percent before the primaries, but the decline in his trademark opposition to the party is sheer coincidence, Mr. Gilchrest said. “It must have been OK votes, then,” he said. “I don’t purposefully vote with the party.”

The CNS analysis counted votes where Mr. Gilchrest voted “no” when the majority of Republicans voted “yes,” and votes where Gilchrest voted “yes” when the majority of his party voted “no.” In some cases, Mr. Gilchrest voted against the consensus of both parties, so all votes counted are not necessarily supportive of a Democratic position.

Mr. Gilchrest’s commitment to finishing his last term in the same way he began it may be an oddity among incumbent congressmen told by their voters to move on.

“The most likely thing would be that they just kind of disappear, that they just coast out, and don’t try to move any of the bills that they introduced, don’t show up for committee meetings, or do the things members are supposed to do,” said Michael Surrusco, a spokesman for the government watchdog Common Cause.

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