Can One Issue Really Define the U.S. Senate Election?

I don’t think about how I vote the same way I did before I got into politics 24 years ago, because now I know too much how the legislative process works once a candidate is elected. That knowledge is important to me. For all the policy differences between Congressman Blackburn and Phil Bredesen, it seems to me that there is only one issue that should matter to everyone, Democrat and Republican alike.

Before I got elected, I thought the life/abortion issue was the issue. I thought that if a candidate got the issue of life and abortion wrong, that indicated a worldview that would lead to erroneous judgments on other policy issues.

Why ‘One Issue’ Voting Can Trip You Up

Then, after I got elected, I realized that the thinking of most legislators winds up going all over the place. They don’t apply their worldview very consistently. Consequently, I realized that I could no longer assume one issue was a window into a candidate’s thinking and worldview.

The life issue is still very important to me, but at this point, I realize there are a number of other issues that reflect a legislator’s view of what it means to be human that are also of very great importance to me.

Why ‘One Issue’ Voting Matters This Time

But, for me, the U.S. Senate race is different. Regardless of your policy views about taxes, guns, health care, life/abortion, immigration, or border security, there is only one issue to consider when it comes to deciding whether to vote for Congressman Blackburn or Phil Bredesen, and that’s for one simple reason: Whoever controls the U.S. Senate will have a very slim majority.

That may sound crazy, but here is what I mean. As long as the arcane procedural rule that allows 40 of the 100 U.S. senators to prevent the majority party in the Senate from acting on legislation still exists, then no legislation on any of these policy issues is going to become law.

All the legislative issues that really divide the two parties are basically irrelevant when it comes to the Senate. The whole Senate won’t even get to vote on them because of that rule.

That’s not to say that rule can’t be abandoned, but I don’t see either party doing so. That rule protects too many senators from both parties from being routinely forced into voting on legislation they don’t want to vote on. The rule allows both parties to protect vulnerable incumbents.

What Is the ‘One Issue’ in This Race?

But, the one issue on which a bare majority of the Senate can force an up or down floor vote is the confirmation of federal judges, including potentially one or two more justices to the U.S. Supreme Court. That is the one issue that is sure to matter.

If you don’t think that issue matters, particularly when it comes to judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court, then you haven’t been paying attention.

You may be one of those people who still thinks the separation of powers doctrine you were taught in eighth-grade civics class prevents federal judges from making law and effectively rewriting state or federal statutes to “enact” new policies. If so, then think again.

Today, too many federal judges apply that doctrine only when they want it to apply. Too many think (and are actually taught in law school) that if good public policy needs an “assist” for the judiciary, then it is their duty to provide that assist. The Obamacare decision allowing the statutory words “state exchanges” to actually mean “state or federal exchanges” is an example of rewriting a statute, and the Obergefell decision is an example of rewriting the U.S. Constitution and disregarding the principle of federalism.

Why That ‘One Issue’ Matters in This Race

Some voters may think Bredesen will be his own person and decide for himself who he will confirm on a case-by-case basis, but if you think that, then you need to read what I said last week about how party caucuses have ways of punishing those who don’t toe the party line.

But more than that, if Tennessee’s open Senate seat becomes the 51st Democratic seat, then Chuck Schumer will become the Senate leader. You’re just flat wrong if you think Bredesen’s vote for someone else as the Democratic leader (within the Democratic caucus) matters; it doesn’t! By rule, there is no vote for “Senate leader” among the full Senate; the leader of the majority party’s caucus is the Senate leader.

So, for Bredesen to say he won’t vote for Schumer as leader is meaningless at best and dishonest at worst.

Schumer as Senate leader means his lieutenants (people who think the way he does and who share his methodologies) will lead the all-important Senate committees. And if that’s the case, expect Kavanaugh-type search-the-distant-past-to-destroy-a-person hearings to become the norm for every federal judge President Trump might nominate.

Because I fully expect that nominations to the U.S. Supreme Court and the U.S. Court of Appeals will be the only substantive votes of a partisan nature that the next U.S. Senate will make, because I know Blackburn will be under no pressure to vote for Chuck Schumer for leader, and because I know for sure what kind of judges she would vote to confirm, I don’t have to think too hard about how I plan to vote.1


  1. The views expressed herein are solely my own as an individual voting citizen and do not reflect the views of the organization by which I am employed or necessarily reflect the views of its board of directors. If anyone would like to hear Congressman Blackburn express her views herself, she will be speaking at an open-to-the-public event in Chattanooga this Saturday, October 27, at 3:00 p.m. ET. The location is East Ridge Motors, 5330 Ringgold Road, East Ridge, TN 37412.

David Fowler served in the Tennessee state Senate for 12 years before joining FACT as President in 2006. Read David’s complete bio.

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1 reply
  1. Charles Collins
    Charles Collins says:

    Thanks, David.
    You have always brought a voice of reason and balance all of your career. I remember when you were running for State Senator and your Democrat opponent told a joke in a keynote speech, saying that a city leader said, “don’t worry____, all the thinking people will te for you.” Your opponents reply, “that won’t be enough— I need a majority.” Unfortunately, reason and wisdom seem to be dishonored. Thank you for bearing the banner.

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