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Aderholt's CAFTA vote did not betray his voters

A presentation by U.S. Rep. Robert Aderholt, R-Haleyville, was a good reminder that decisions rarely present themselves in black and white.

At a speech to the Rotary Club of Decatur, Mr. Aderholt talked at some length about his decision to vote for the Central American Free Trade Agreement.

Many were surprised, and some felt betrayed, at his vote. Rep. Aderholt practically has made a career of opposing free-trade agreements. It is one of the few areas in which the congressman routinely opposes President Bush.

His views on free trade have won points from many of his constituents. Many support his free-trade opposition because he often wraps it in ideological garb. Others have supported his free-trade opposition because this area has paid the price of low-cost imports, especially from China.

Mr. Aderholt's decision to vote for CAFTA was all the more difficult because he had openly criticized the agreement before signing it at the 11th hour.

Against this background, it is no wonder that his vote for CAFTA attracted scowls from his constituents, especially given the fact that the bill passed the House by only two votes.

Critics have attacked him for gullibility on the issue. He changed his vote only after receiving promises that the Bush Administration would work hard to create an exception for the sock industry, a mainstay of Fort Payne, that employs almost 6,000. The promises, however, are unenforceable. Even if the administration does as it promised, it has no way to unilaterally amend the agreement.

What Mr. Aderholt explained Monday, however, should soothe his critics.

He first explained that, while CAFTA is bad for the sock and textile industries in North Alabama, it is beneficial to the poultry industry. An open Central American border would give Alabama farmers an important export market.

CAFTA also benefits other industries, particularly the many in North Alabama that rely upon skilled labor and advanced technology. That is a recipe that describes many industries attracted to the area by Huntsville's high-tech growth.

So what does a conscientious legislator do when faced with an issue that is good for some constituents and bad for others?

Through his actions, Rep. Aderholt answered that question. He withheld his blessing of CAFTA until the last minute, thus giving himself as much leverage as possible. Then he used that leverage to negotiate the best available deal for sock manufacturers. Not a binding deal, but something is better than nothing.

Whether CAFTA will benefit North Alabama is a question that will take years to answer. Given his belief that it will, Mr. Aderholt balanced the needs of his various constituencies.

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