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By Robert Farley April 23, 2008

He wanted local officials to decide

A letter from the conservative group Focus on the Family Action makes a multifaceted attack on Sen. Barack Obama in an attempt to portray him as someone who would be "the most left-wing president in our nation's history." The article, written for the organization's Web site and widely circulated via chain e-mail, tries to paint Obama as bad for families, accusing him of everything from trying to further "the homosexual agenda" to being soft on the war against terrorists.

Focus on the Family Action is the lobbying arm of Focus on the Family, an organization founded by evangelical Christian Dr. James Dobson.

One of the claims in the article, written by Tom Minnery, senior vice president of Focus on the Family Action, is that, "As a state senator, he (Obama) even refused to support a measure to stop sex businesses from opening near schools or places of worship!"

It's true. But before you go fitting Obama with Hugh Hefner-esque silk pajamas, some explanation is in order.

The bill that came before the Illinois state Senate on March 29, 2001, sought to prohibit adult businesses from being located within 1,000 feet of public or private elementary or secondary schools, public parks, places of worship, preschools, day care facilities, mobile home parks or any areas zoned residential.

Obama argued that kind of regulation is better handled by local officials through zoning. He noted that the City of Chicago opposed the bill as a pre-emption of its home rule.

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Addressing the assembly, Obama stated: "This is one of those areas where nobody likes, necessarily, to have — well, I don't say nobody, but most of us would prefer not to have an adult bookstore or movie theater or something next to our residence. But that's exactly why we have local zoning ordinances. And that's why, presumably, we have council members or heads of townships or all the various branches of local government who are much closer to the ground than we are in making these determinations. And it seems to me that if there's ever been a function that has historically been relegated to local control and it is appropriately there, it's these kinds of zoning matters. I would urge a No vote."

But Obama didn't actually vote "no." He and four others voted "present." In the Illinois state Senate, lawmakers sometimes vote "present" instead of "no" to block bills without officially opposing them. (Earlier in the campaign, Sen. Hillary Clinton questioned whether Obama used present votes 129 times over eight years as an Illinois state senator to duck tough votes. PolitiFact examined Obama's present votes here. )

The political considerations here are obvious. Had he voted no, the attack would now be that "Obama opposed..." instead of the weaker "Obama refused to support..." The small distinction didn't appear to have saved Obama much grief.

The vote came down 33 in favor; 15 against, with 5 voting "present." Because the bill needed 36 votes in favor — a three-fifths majority — it narrowly failed.

Any implication that Obama's vote means that he supports sex businesses opening near schools or places of worship would be false. But in Minnery's article, which has been widely circulated through chain e-mail, he states that Obama "refused to support" a bill that would have prohibited sex shops near schools and places of worship. That's True.


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He wanted local officials to decide

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