Peltola’s votes show she’s one of the least loyal Democrats in the U.S. House

Congresswoman Mary Peltola speaks to a joint session of the Alaska Legislature on Feb. 26, 2024. Such speeches are annual events for all three members of Alaska’s delegation to Congress. (Clarise Larson/KTOO)

Democrats in the U.S. House almost always vote in line with party leaders, but Congresswoman Mary Peltola’s voting record suggests she’s one of the chamber’s least loyal Democrats.

She’s bucked the party on 78 votes since the start of 2023. That’s a “votes against party” rate of more than 12%, the fourth highest among House Democrats, according to data gathered by ProPublica. The average House Democrat votes against the party less than 6% of the time.

Her aisle-crossing votes are mostly in the areas of energy development and immigration. They bolster her image as a moderate who is open to working with Republicans but they haven’t helped the GOP enact new statutes. Many of the measures she voted for were designed for a different purpose: to scold President Biden.

Peltola was one of just four Democrats to vote for a harshly worded but non-binding resolution entitled “Denouncing the harmful, anti-American energy policies of the Biden administration, and for other purposes.” She also voted for a resolution “Expressing the sense of Congress that a carbon tax would be detrimental to the U.S. economy.” And she voted for a bill to prohibit the administration from banning fracking, which has almost no chance of passing the Senate.

“If we want to be cynical in our analysis, we could say that she feels safe — electorally, in Alaska —  to take these positions,” said Forrest Nabors, chair of the political science department at the University of Alaska Anchorage.

Nabors said Peltola could be crossing the aisle to vote in favor of issues like oil development because it’s popular in Alaska.

“So she’s probably feeling like she can afford to take these positions, even if it alienates some members of her party nationally,” he said.

That’s Nabors’ cynical take — that Peltola is voting strategically, to win an election. It’s not his only theory.

“It may be the case that all these positions she’s taking are mainly influenced by her own conscience,” he said. “I mean, that just might be her nature, to be independent in this way.”

Many of the GOP bills and resolutions that pass the House are intended to give Republican lawmakers a chance to stake out a position against an unpopular president, and to serve as fodder for negative campaign ads against Democrats.

Peltola, though, does not stick to the partisan script, on energy or the Southwest border. She voted, for instance, to denounce the Biden administration’s immigration policies, and to require the jailing of more unauthorized migrants.

Peltola’s chief of staff and campaign advisor, Anton McParland, said Peltola doesn’t see a difference between a strategic vote and one that’s good for Alaska.  She believes, he said, that “the best way to win reelection is to do her job in Congress really well, and to advocate for Alaska.”

Peltola sometimes votes with Republicans against a Biden administration policy because she feels it does not take Alaska conditions into account, McParland said. And her vote to denounce the Biden administration on immigration “more than anything, it was just an acknowledgement that there’s a crisis there that needs to be addressed,” he said.

Peltola isn’t getting a lot of party pressure to stay in line, he said, in part because Congressional leaders are used to Alaska’s congressional delegation going its own way.

On social media, Alaska environmentalists sometimes resort to exclamation points and ick emojis when Peltola votes for messaging bills in favor of resource development, but that may not mean much for her reelection chances.

The League of Conservation Voters gave Peltola among the worst scores of any Democrat on its annual National Environmental Scorecard and hasn’t endorsed her. But the state affiliate, called The Alaska Center, endorsed Peltola in 2022. And its political director, Jenny-Marie Stryker, says it may decide to do so again this year.

“Our big take on Mary is that sometimes we’re really, really proud of the work she’s done,” Stryker said. “And there’s some times when we’ve been disappointed.”

One factor in the group’s endorsement decision, Stryker says, is that there may be no good alternative. So far, Peltola’s serious challengers are both conservative Republicans — entrepreneur Nick Begich III, and Lt. Gov. Nancy Dahlstrom.

Meanwhile, the National Republican Congressional Committee, dedicated to defeating House Democrats, gives Peltola no credit for bipartisanship. In its messaging, she’s an “extreme Democrat” who has “lock-step loyalty to Joe Biden.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story said League of Conservation Voters gave Rep. Peltola the lowest 2023 score among House Democrats. She was 9th worst, of 214. It also misstated the name of the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Liz Ruskin is the Washington, D.C., correspondent at Alaska Public Media. Reach her at Read more about Liz here.

Previous articleAlaska News Nightly: Wednesday, March 27, 2024
Next articleMan fatally shot outside Turnagain apartment complex, Anchorage police say