08/14/07 — Smith says he didn't miss any key votes

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Smith says he didn't miss any key votes

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on August 14, 2007 1:45 PM

Looking back at the 2007 legislative session, one member of the Wayne County delegation earned the dubious distinction of being one of the General Assembly's most absent members.

Sen. Fred Smith, R-Johnston, missed nearly a quarter of the votes he was eligible to cast -- more than any other senator and more than any other Wayne County legislator.

Of the votes he was eligible to participate in, Smith cast his ballot 96.2 percent of the time. Of the total number of votes taken in the senate, Smith participated in 74.3 percent -- 920 of 1,238. Of those votes missed, most were excused absences.

However, he maintained that he represented the 12th District well.

"Every vote I missed was either ceremonial, a local bill or almost unanimous. I was there for every important vote," he said. "There's not one law on the books or not on the books because of my absences."

He emphasized the fact that he was in Raleigh for votes on the budget and on bills that he was sponsoring for his district.

Among the votes he missed, were the final votes on the renewable energy promotion bill that passed 47-1, the final votes of the Solid Waste Act that passed 28-15, the continuing resolution for the 2006-07 budget that passed 21-6, a resolution honoring the town of Goldston for its 100th birthday and several local bills for other counties.

Many of his missed votes came during the last week of the session, with most falling on the last two days.

And that, said minority leader Sen. Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, is significant because there are simply so many votes taken during a session's final days.

"I think the number of days missed is just as important a number to look at as the number votes missed," he said. "I don't think he missed any vote that his being there and voting would have changed the outcome.

"He contributed a great deal to the session."

Smith explained that his absences were almost all due to his on-going campaign for the Republican gubernatorial nomination.

"I was out working all over the state -- talking to people about the type of government I want to try and bring," he said.

Since announcing his candidacy for the state's top executive office in March, he has repeatedly acknowledged that one of his biggest challenges was going to be increasing his name recognition beyond Raleigh and his two-county district.

But speaking to a morning men's prayer breakfast at Wilber's Barbecue in April, he pledged to continue meeting the needs of his constituents, despite the demands of the campaign.

"Once I decided to run, it was incumbent upon me to be recognized, (but) I think I'm meeting the needs of the people in my district," Smith said in April. "It just requires long days ... I'll do my campaigning at night and on weekends. Once it's over, I'll campaign full-time."

But despite not quite being able to stick strictly to that pledge, he said he was comfortable with how he performed as an elected official this year.

"My first four years, I had one of the highest and best attendance and voting records in the Senate," he said.

And ultimately, Smith continued, the only difference in how he approached the job this year was that he spent a little more time out of town.

"I've worked harder and longer than just about any other senator. Every time I was absent, it was with (Berger's) permission. I've met my obligations to the people I represent," he said.

Over in the House, Rep. Louis Pate, R-Wayne, missed more votes than Wayne County's other two representatives. He made 99.8 percent of the votes he was eligible for -- 87.5 percent of the total votes.

Among those he missed were, the final votes on the authorization of judges to carry concealed weapons in court that passed 86-15, a bill to expunge the record of nonviolent youthful offenders that passed 67-43, a resolution honoring a former Rowan County commissioner and several local bills for other counties.

"I don't think the outcome was in doubt on any of them. Some of them I was caught off the floor some reason or another. Some I was attending a meeting I had to go to. Sometimes a subcommittee or a conference committee will meet while we're on the floor and we can't rush back to push the button every time. There are some things that keep us away," Pate said. "I'm very proud of my record. I feel I was there doing the people's business."

As for the rest of Wayne County's delegation:

Sen. John Kerr, D-Wayne, made 94.2 percent of the votes he was eligible for -- 91.2 percent of the total votes.

Rep. Larry Bell, D-Sampson, made 99 percent of the votes he was eligible for -- 97.5 percent of the total votes.

Rep. Van Braxton, D-Lenoir, made 98.2 percent of the votes he was eligible for -- 97.8 percent of the total votes.