WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Renee Ellmers has taken over as North Carolina's most conservative House member, according to the National Journal's annual analysis of congressional votes.
The freshman Republican from Dunn, who ran as a favorite of tea-party backers, was ranked 15th most conservative in the House. She beat out U.S. Rep. Patrick McHenry, a Cherryville Republican, and Rep. Virginia Foxx, a Banner Elk Republican, on the conservative ranking.McHenry ranked 20th; Foxx, 62nd.
U.S. Rep. Mel Watt, a Charlotte Democrat, was named the most liberal House member of the North Carolina delegation, followed by U.S. Rep.David Price, a Chapel Hill Democrat. Watt ranked 50th on the House liberal rankings; Price was at 112.
Among U.S. senators, Richard Burr, a Winston-Salem Republican, was ranked seventh most conservative. U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan, a Greensboro Democrat, was ranked the 32nd most liberal.
The ratings are based on 97 Senate votes and 105 House votes during 2011.
The analysis also reflected how polarized Congress is today.
"For the second year in a row, but only the third time in the 30 years that National Journal has published these ratings, no Senate Democrat compiled a voting record to the right of any Senate Republican, and no Republican came down on the left of any Senate Democrat," the magazine reports.
Only six House Republicans, including Rep. Walter Jones, a Farmville Republican, compiled a more "liberal" voting record than the most conservative Democrat, U.S. Rep. Dan Boren of Oklahoma.
Catawba College political science professor Michael Bitzer said the rankings were no surprise.
"With Renee (Ellmers), she came from a tea party background," Bitzer said. "With those folks it is a very conservative platform. Mel (Watt) on the other hand is so liberal because of the district." Nearly 60 percent of Watt's 12th District is Democratic. The majority of voters in his district are African-American, who historically have voted along Democratic party lines.
Watt said that the terms conservative and liberal were overused in political vernacular and meant little to him or average citizens. "I cast one vote at a time," he said. "I don't look at whether it's conservative or liberal."
Ellmers said the scores reflect her commitment. "Throughout my first year in office, I have listened closely to the needs and concerns of those who sent me here and have not shifted on the principles and values that they hold dear - values that I share," she said.