For Obama, bipartisan aims, party-line votes
A desire to build cross-party consensus in Senate rubs up against political perils of compromise.
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Laimutis Nargelenas, deputy director of the Illinois Association of Police Chiefs, recalls that other lawmakers had pressed for amendments that the police saw as unworkable, such as a requirement that videotaping begin the moment of arrest or that police officers ask motorists their race rather than guess.Skip to next paragraph
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Obama "was always willing to sit down and always wanted to hear, what were the unintended consequences," Mr. Nargelenas recalls. "Some other legislators would get a bill, put it through, and we'd say, 'Wow, these people don't have a clue how this would affect us.' "
Mary Dixon, legislative director for the ACLU of Illinois, a proponent of the bills, says Obama "helped law enforcement feel less attacked by the concept,… by repeating that, 'We know that the majority of law enforcement is doing a good job out there under difficult circumstances.' "
Still, Illinois Republicans say few of their number were as enthusiastic about him as Dillard, who appeared in the Obama ad.
"It is absolutely not typical," says GOP state Sen. Christine Radogno, who was elected the same year as Obama and is now the deputy minority leader. "I would challenge people to call every [Illinois] Republican who worked with Obama and find one other person that has that view."
The profiling and interrogation bills were an outgrowth of a broader effort, led by the governor, to reform the criminal-justice system in the wake of wrongful death-row convictions, she says. And while Obama has defended his "present" votes as a common practice to protest flawed bills, Senator Radogno says he overused them, sometimes as political cover on contentious issues. "If a bill has a fatal flaw," she says, "you ought to vote no and explain it."
Other lawmakers saw Obama as ambitious and aloof. "Everybody wasn't thrilled about Mr. Goody Two-shoes coming in here and imposing all his great ideas on how we need change, when nobody was begging for it," recalls Paul Williams, a lobbyist and former Democratic state representative who supports Obama. "A few people had got their Barack dartboards, and were saying, 'Where does this freshman get off?' "
Bipartisan ideals tested in US Senate
Obama was elected to the US Senate in 2004, a challenging year for a promoter of cross-party bonhomie. Democrats had lost another close election for the White House, Republicans had widened their Senate majority, and Americans were bitterly divided after a bruising campaign season. Moreover, the Senate hierarchy affords freshmen – even those with Obama's celebrity – little power.
Obama's most significant bipartisan achievement there is a new online database for the public to look up federal contracts and other spending. Obama sponsored the 2006 measure with Oklahoma Republican Tom Coburn, one of the Senate's most conservative members, amid reports of questionable contracts in the wake of hurricane Katrina.