Fred Thompson set a mark for obstinateness during his eight years in the Senate, ending up the lone dissenter on more votes on bills and amendments than any other Republican during that time.

Sometimes being the lone holdout against, say, pork-laden bills or idiotic new rules (of the “I’ll force you to see a doctor whether you like it or not” variety) is the right thing to be. But is that Fred’s voting record? Sometimes, but not always.

Some votes are likely to draw scrutiny, particularly a series of votes in the 1990s against cracking down on illegal aliens. Those include a 1995 vote against limiting services other than emergency care and public education to illegal aliens — he was one of just six senators to oppose that proposal — and a 1996 vote against creating an employer verification system to help businesses filter out illegal aliens who apply for jobs.

Like any senator’s record, there are good votes and bad votes in the pile. The question is, are there more good ones than bad ones?

Among the votes sure to be popular among conservatives are a 1997 vote to eliminate funding for the National Endowment for the Arts, and a 1999 vote against requiring guns to be sold with gun locks. Another frequent Thompson target was a subsidy to promote U.S. agricultural products overseas, which he regularly voted to slash.

But on immigration, Mr. Thompson had several votes where he bucked the pack — and seemed to favor illegal aliens.

The most stark example was his 1995 vote on the welfare overhaul, when he voted to preserve illegal aliens’ ability to receive federal benefits. He was one of just six senators to vote that way, joining four other Republicans and one Democrat.

And in 1996, as Congress considered a crackdown on illegal aliens, Mr. Thompson voted against setting up a system so employers could verify the legal status of their workers.

An adviser to the campaign on immigration matters, who asked not to be named, said Mr. Thompson had concerns about how broadly the public-benefits provision was drawn. As for the employer verification system, the adviser said Mr. Thompson joined a majority of Republicans in the chamber in opposing it, with many of them thinking the new system would lead to a national ID card.

Two parts of Thompson’s voting record stand out as problematic for conservatives: campaign finance reform and immigration. Fwiw, on both of those issues, Thompson has reversed himself and now isn’t a fan of the CFR he helped shepherd into law, and does favor the employer verification system that he once opposed. The welfare vote is probably going to hang around for a while, though. On its face, it looks indefensible, as it puts law-abiding citizens in the position of being forced to pay for benefits for people who violated our laws to get here and stay here, and often without bothering to work to support themselves.

Update: It’s looking like a campaign alright: Candidate gets criticized, campaign kicks out a quick press release in response. It’s not on Fred’s site yet, but here’s part of it:

(McLean, VA) Senator Fred Thompson has been a consistent supporter of conservative immigration proposals that would improve border security; eliminate incentives for illegal immigrants to come to the United States and obtain welfare benefits; and strengthen employment verification procedures. He has an “A+” rating from Americans for Better Immigration for his senate voting record on border security issues.

FACT: OPPOSED the McCain-Kennedy Immigration Reform Bill.

OPPOSES amnesty for illegal immigrants.

SUPPORTS tougher border control along the U.S./Mexican border.

SUPPORTS increased penalties against alien smuggling and document fraud.


Fred Thompson Voted For “The Immigration Control And Financial Responsibility Act Of 1996” As Part Of The Senate Judiciary Committee And On The Senate Floor.

(S. 1664, Roll Call Vote #107, Cloture Motion Passed 100-0, 5/2/96, Thompson Voted Yea).

The I’m With Fred site will probably have the entire release up before the end of the day, linked off this page.