Friday, September 19, 2008

Voting records can be had ... for the inquiring voter

On Nov. 4, voters across the country will cast ballots on many important races and issues.

At the federal level, all of the 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives are up for election, while 35 – or about one-third – of the 100 U.S. Senate seats are up for grabs. At the state level, 11 governors’ seats are on ballots, while 80 percent of state legislators’ positions across America are on ballots.

While elected officials are hammering the airwaves, stuffing mailboxes and filling voice mails with their election season messages in hopes of swaying voters, those savvy to the practice will instead recall the elected officials’ full bodies of work. Past actions of politicians can help voters determine whether the pressure of getting re-elected might be causing them to seemingly change their way of thinking.

Voters with a photographic memory know all there is to know about elected officials’ voting records. They’ll have little problem figuring out who to cast a ballot in favor of. For everyone else, a little help with where to get voting records is a big help.

Tracking votes of congressional lawmakers is pretty easy. Multiple sources are available to get an inside look at their track records on issues of importance to you. Among the Web sites with good information are The Washington Post, Project Vote Smart and the sites for the U.S. Senate and U.S. House.

It is important to note that only recorded votes can be tracked for individual members. Many votes are taken in the U.S. House and Senate by voice vote or division vote, where individual members’ positions are not available.

Voting histories for elected officials at statehouses aren’t as easy to come by but, in most instances, can be found by persistent voters. One helpful site is USAvotes.org. However, on this site, voting records can be found for lawmakers only in Hawaii, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, Rhode Island, Utah and Washington.

For the remaining states, voters have to be willing to put in the time and effort to visit individual state legislative sites to research previous votes. Fortunately, those sites typically are very good about making information from the current and previous sessions available.

For instance, Illinois voters familiar with SB540 from 2007 to authorize uniform speed limits can trace back to find out which House lawmakers voted against an override of the governor’s veto. To see the voting breakdown on that issue, click here.

Other nuggets of information can be found for other states. A useful tool to help identify bills of significance to the trucking industry in your home state can be found on a Web site made available by OOIDA. Click here to visit that site.

Bienvenido a Miami

Major cargo theft from commercial trucks in the United States is on pace to double this past year’s estimated $1.2 billion haul.

A bad economy and relatively low risk, high reward means criminals are stealing more from commercial trucks than ever before.

I was in Miami this week, interviewing members of the Tactical Operations Multi-Agency Cargo Anti-Theft Squad, also known as TOMCATS. Housed in the Miami-Dade Police Department, TOMCATS has snagged $50 million in stolen cargo this year already, and agency officials say truckers can do their part to make themselves a less likely target.

The two most important things drivers can do, they say, is to never leave a truck while it’s idling and to park only in well-lit, safe areas.

Of course, they understand some of the challenges long-haulers face in finding good parking, particularly related to meeting hours-of-service requirements while often making drops and pickups in dangerous or partially secluded areas.

Look for more about my ride-along in the November edition of Land Line Magazine.

Miami is a major trucking hub, with cargo containers being imported and exported through the Atlantic and scores of warehouses in the Miami-Dade County area.

Looks like this group has got plenty of job security.

Tuesday was my first day in Miami, and I walked the city for a few miles to soak in some first impressions. First off, Miami can’t be summed up in a sentence. It’s heavy on tourism and international flavor (my first five minutes off the plane I bumped into people speaking French, I believe German, and a host of Spanish and Caribbean varieties.

The weather is nice and warm at night, and extremely humid and hot during the day.

The people can be friendly, but the city also shows some grit. A bus driver chided me for having a wadded-up bus exchange receipt. Apparently he thought I was trying to get out of the $1.50 fare.

My polo shirt, khaki shorts and cheap sandals definitely didn’t fit in on the South Beach scene, and I can honestly say Tuesday was the first time I ever felt underdressed at a CVS drugstore.

But, on the whole, it was a good trip.

Maybe not quite this good, though.