Sunday, July 6, 2014

Collins and Carbon: Anybody's Guess

As expected, League of Conservation Voters (LCV) endorsed Sen. Susan Collins last week despite her middling lifetime rating of 67% on LCV's own scorecard.

By way of comparison: Collins's 69% rating for 2013 put her 34th out of the 35 Senate and House members who represented New England during that year.

(I've written about LCV's peculiar fondness for Collins more than a few times in the past.)

The text of the endorsement is worth reading, if only because it includes a claim that is verifiably--and obviously--false:

"[Collins] is always fighting for the people of Maine by supporting commonsense policies that promote the state's outdoor heritage and help protect our air, water and public health."

To be sure, Collins has taken more than a few environmentally-friendly votes over the years. But since when does 67% get rounded up to "always"?

In short, rather than candidly explain the bargain the group has struck by standing with a pol who supported what LCV itself called the ""most anti-environment bill signed into law in recent memory", the organization has instead sidestepped the ickiness of the situation by simply lying about Collins's record.

What's more, while the endorsement claims that "Collins is committed to finding bipartisan solutions that will safeguard our environment and combat climate change," the senior senators words and actions tell a much more complicated story.

Specifically, after backing climate legislation back in the mid-2000s when it had no chance of passing, Collins balked once President Obama took office--lamely blaming the economy--and ultimately refused to get behind the bill with the best chance of passing, even as she voted to block the EPA from regulating emissions.

She also pushed an amendment that would have stalled the tightening of clean air standards--a move that National Resouces Defense Council says would have resulted in over 17,000 avoidable heart attacks.

And here she is flogging a Koch-friendly, environmentally-reckless "regulatory time-out" in the Republican weekly address:


If safeguarding the environment is high on the list of concerns of the pol speaking above, there's no evidence of it.

Yes, Collins's history when it comes to the environment isn't all bad news. But it's the very murkiness of her record and rhetoric that makes LCV's claim to know what she's "committed to" laughable.

To that point: A week after LCV announced its support, Collins remains the only member of the Maine delegation not to have staked out a position on whether the EPA's new draft carbon regulations should be welcomed or overturned.

Draw your own conclusions.

ALSO: Expect light tweeting--and even lighter blogging--from Collins Watch for the month of July. We'll see you in August.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

HRC for Collins. Again.

In a move that's unsurprising but nonetheless troubling, Human Rights Campaign (HRC) endorsed Sen. Susan Collins in her bid for a fourth term earlier today.

Collins has been a trailblazer on gay rights issues among congressional Republicans. But her record pales in comparison to those of many non-Republican actors on the political stage, including Democratic challenger Shenna Bellows, who was a leader in the 2012 Maine marriage referendum fight and a stalwart supporter of the LGBT community during her years at the ACLU of Maine.

HRC made waves during the 2008 campaign when it backed Collins over a Democratic challenger who had a better record on LGBT issues according to HRC's own scorecard.

At the time, HRC defended the move on "bipartisanship" grounds in an e-mail to this blog:

HRC is a bipartisan organization. This is not an empty principle or a meaningless nod to an ideal we do not follow. We are bipartisan because equality knows no party, and because we simply cannot achieve justice for the entire GLBT community by conceding that only Democrats should care about us.

Of course, as I noted in the same post, "the onus should be on Republicans to sign onto HRC's agenda--rather than on HRC to bend its standards to accommodate members of the GOP."

But this time around, HRC or Collins--or both--took that advice to heart. Because just a few hours after the endorsement hit, news arrived that Collins now supports same-sex marriage, albeit in a limited, qualified sense:

"A number of states, including my home state of Maine, have now legalized same-sex marriage, and I agree with that decision."

[...]

[Collins spokesman Lance Dutson] said the senator had been silent on the issue previously because she believes it is the voters of each state--not U.S. senators--who should make the decision on marriage equality.

"What she has consistently said is she doesn't want to get involved in state-level referendum issues. She's a U.S. senator, and she stays within the purview of her office," Dutson said. "But when asked [today] about her personal stance on this issue, she said she supports it."


So it's a personal view: Collins isn't supporting a federal marriage right; or updating her dodge about the impact of the Defense of Marriage Act; or even divulging how she voted in the 2012 state referendum.

She's just saying she's cool with same-sex Marriage within the borders of Maine (something that's already on the books) from this day forward.

Not exactly crusading for the cause. But good enough for HRC apparently.

Still, the story is cringeworthy for a reason having nothing to do with the half-heartedness of the message or the fecklessness of HRC. Namely: Why did Collins decide to go out of her way to make her about-face on marriage appear to be a quid pro quo?

I can't think of a precedent for the kind of juxtaposition we saw today, and it's not hard to understand why: When you announce a change of heart on a profound issue of conscience just a few hours after receiving an endorsement from an organization that focuses on the issue in question, it can't help but read as a transactional, even mercenary move.

Surely, there's got to be some plausible reason for why Maine's senior senator chose to time things this way. But I can't seem to come up with any compelling theories.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Quote of the Day

Paul Krugman tells an inconvenient truth:

Given the state of U.S. politics today, climate action is entirely dependent on Democrats, With a Democrat in the White House, we got some movement through executive action; if Democrats eventually regain the House, there could be more. If [former Treasury Secretary Hank] Paulson believes that he can support Republicans while still pushing for climate action, he's just delusional.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Poll: Collins +55% (!)

Hard to reconcile the new Press Herald numbers with the previous Collins-Bellows poll: With no major news developments, did Maine's senior senator really gain 19 points on her Democratic challenger in eight weeks?

It seems unlikely, but it's a mostly academic question. Sen. Susan Collins is way out in front. It would take something dramatic to make this race competitive.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Quote of the Day

Sen. Susan Collins:

"The question is whether air strikes can be targeted enough that they don't kill innocent people."

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Quote of the Day

Sen. Susan Collins on embattled Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS):

"I'm giving him another contribution, the maximum I can give him from my leadership PAC and I'll be going to the event for him tonight."

Monday, June 2, 2014

Quote of the Day

MPBN:

Both of Maine's Democratic House representatives welcomed the new [EPA rules regulating carbon dioxide], as did independent Sen. Angus King. Maine's other senator--Republican Susan Collins--issued a statement saying she was still carefully evaluating them.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Quote of the Day

NYT:

"We need to raise money to keep ourselves going," said Adam Brandon, the executive vice president of FreedomWorks. "Grass-roots activism is not cheap, and this stuff is not for free."

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Quote of the Day

New York Times:

In the Senate, the Republican threesome of John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, who often speak from the same playbook on foreign policy, are among those who talk about Benghazi the most, along with fellow Republicans Susan Collins of Maine and Ted Cruz of Texas.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Hurting and Helping

Friday on Ken and Mike's WGAN radio show, Sen. Susan Collins backed into a revealing explanation of her thinking about the minimum wage [7:06]:

I was so frustrated that those of us who want to see an increase in the minimum wage but believe that $10.10 would actually harm the very people we're trying to help were not given an opportunity to offer alternatives.(Emphasis added.)

During the interview, Collins never qualifies or expands on her view that boosting the minimum wage to $10.10 in three phases between now and 2016 would be, essentially, a self-defeating policy.

But that's a controversial stance--or ought to be.

Because while there are plausible (if mostly weak) arguments to be made about the downsides of a significant minimum wage increase, harm to the workers themselves isn't one of them.

After all, the very Congressional Budget Office study that Collins cites approvingly in the interview projects that a $10.10 minimum wage would lift 900,000 out of poverty and boost wages for 16 million Americans. It also estimates a loss of 500,000 jobs, but as center-right economics writer Josh Barro notes, that's a trade well-worth making:

For every person put out of work by the minimum wage increase, more than 30 will see rises in income, often on the order of several dollars an hour. Low--and moderate--income families will get an extra $17 billion a year in income, even after accounting for people who get put out of work; for reference, that's roughly equivalent to a 25% increase in the Earned Income Tax Credit.

In the context of those numbers, the only way to oppose a $10.10 minimum wage based on its impact on workers is to maintain that any job loss is unacceptable. But if that's the new standard, Washington should simply throw in the towel on policy-making altogether. Because all legislation--even something as benign as expanding access to the potato in federal nutrition programs--is bound to affect some workers negatively in an economy as large, complicated and interconnected as ours.

Which is why policies should be evaluated on the basis of their overall impact rather than a single cherry-picked statistic.

Collins knows this, of course. So when she talks about $10.10 harming "the very people we're trying to help" it seems safe to say that something other than a neutral cost-benefit analysis is at work.

Specifically, this looks an awful lot like a Washington veteran and a friend of the restaurant lobby straining to conflate the narrow legislative aims of a privileged constituency with the economic interests of Americans more broadly.

Granted, accepting that what's good for McDonald's is good for its workers requires a certain amount of tortured thinking. But when you spend decades ensconced in the beltway, giving disproportionate attention to the most powerful corporate voices at the expense of the regular people, it's the sort of argument that you can't help but find yourself spouting.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Quote of the Day

Allahpundit at Hot Air on Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY):

Backing [Sen. Susan] Collins so effusively when he could have demurred with a simple “I always support Republicans over Democrats” might have been the last straw, definitive proof that he’s "over-correcting."

Poll: Collins +36%

Sen. Susan Collins campaign staffer Lance Dutson points to a new poll on the Maine Senate race out from Republican-leaning pollster Rassmussen:

Collins (R) 60%

Bellows (D) 24%


This is a real shot in the arm for Collins and unwelcome news for the Bellows camp: After six months in the race--including some stunningly positive press coverage and surprisingly strong grassroots funding--Bellows and her team are bound to be discouraged to have narrowed their deficit by just three points since the race's only prior poll.

On the other hand, Rasmussen is a right-leaning outfit with a history of GOP-friendly bias, so it would be useful to have these numbers corroborated by another pollster with a better track record.

Either way, this result confirms that Collins isn't just ahead; she's well ahead. If the race stays on its current trajectory, she cruises to victory.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Bellows Q1: $433K

Democratic Senate candidate Shenna Bellows showed some momentum in her second quarter of active campaigning, building on her impressive first quarter totals.

These aren't the kind of blowout figures we're seeing in Kentucky. And Bellows raised less than half as much as Sen. Susan Collins.

But Maine has 1/3 as many people as the Bluegrass State. And the kind of grassroots race Bellows seems intent on running just isn't that expensive in a small state. So as long as she can amass the funds necessary to build out her staff and continue to get the message out, her campaign remains on its chosen trajectory.

Whether such an approach is viable in Maine in 2014 is very much an open question. But it seems quite likely at this point that Bellows will have the funds necessary to test that premise.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Collins Q1: $877K

Not a bad haul for Maine's senior senator, but not a giant quarter either: She raised $963,000 in the comparable quarter last cycle. And of course there's always the question of where that money came from.

We'll know in a few weeks.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Pawn in a Larger Game

Regular readers know that there's a long and sordid history of left-leaning interest groups--and environmental organizations in particular--succumbing to a kind of willful blindness when it comes to Sen. Susan Collins and her record.

We saw it in 2008 with the League of Conservation Voters (LCV) endorsing Collins even though she had a significantly worse record than her Democratic opponent according to LCV's own scorecard.

We also saw it in the wake of Collins's support for the 2011 incarnation of the Ryan budget, with Maine's senior senator earning praise from a children's advocacy organization just two weeks after voting to gut Head Start and food stamps.

There are, alas, many other examples. (Equality Maine is one organization that has, at least at times, charted a different course.)

So it was galling but not surprising when it was announced that a TV ad supporting Collins was going to be running in Maine as part of a multi-organization, multi-state pro-environment (or was it pro-renewable energy?) advocacy campaign.

On the Collins ad in particular, Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) was teaming up with something called Mom's Clean Air Force (MCAF) to pay for a spot in local TV markets touting a pair of Collins votes that the Maine-centric ad suggests--against a backdrop of buoys and lobster traps--have helped protect "our" way of life.

Forget that both organizations are based in Washington DC and that no one on the ground in Maine was consulted about or involved in the decision to run the ad, according to David DiMartino of strategic communications firm Blue Engine Media, who spearheaded the campaign.

Forget also that Collins, a Keystone XL pipeline supporter with a lifetime LCV score of 67% (and dropping), has sided with climate deniers and corporate polluters in vote after vote in recent years--at one point famously blaming the weak economy for her lack of urgency on climate change.

That record notwithstanding, EDF and MCAF apparently felt so strongly about touting Collins's supposed pro-environment bona fides--based on two votes out of literally dozens scored by LCV in the last few years--that they could think of no better use of their hard-won funds than to take to the airwaves to tell Mainers about their own senator.

In purely environmental advocacy terms, it was hard to make sense of. So I reached out to EDF for answers. (I was less persistent in my efforts to speak with MCAF, a group with a shorter track record and a smaller footprint.)

I was eventually put in touch with EDF's Keith Gaby and we had a spirited fifteen minute back-and-forth.

Unfortunately, Gaby wouldn't confirm EDF's relationship with MCAF; or the size of the ad buy; or EDF's contribution to the buy; or the channels the ad was placed with.

He also refused to shed any light on the process through which the decision to green-light the ad was reached; or why it was launched as part of a multi-state, multi-organization effort; or whether it was dishonest for two DC-based organizations with no apparent Maine presence to craft an ad that poses as a message to Mainers by Mainers.

But his answers to my question about why EDF chose to single out Collins were illuminating.

After I rattled off a series of high profile anti-environment votes by Maine's senior senator (including the 2005 Cheney energy bill which LCV called the "most anti-environment bill signed into law in recent memory"), Gaby stipulated that Collins has taken any number of actions that EDF disapproves of.

Still, he argued, Collins, as a Republican, had taken particular risk on the votes EDF was touting. It was an idea he circled back to repeatedly as he made his case for lavishing praise on the three-term incumbent.

When I questioned that premise--and the idea that she deserved special recognition on the basis of her party affiliation--Gaby seemed to think I was kidding or being cute. He was genuinely flummoxed.

He ventured, ultimately, that it's "self-evident that a member of a political party" faces pressures by virtue of that membership. (That Collins actually chooses to subject herself to those pressures by running as a Republican didn't seem to weigh into his calculus.)

He argued, further, that highlighting the votes of a fellow Republican might "encourage others" in the GOP to see the political upside of taking more environmentally-friendly stances.

The overarching idea seemed to be that support for Collins could be used as way to reward her for breaking with her GOP colleagues (however sporadically) and to incentive other Republicans to think about taking pro-environment positions. That seemed to be about the size of it.

There are, of course, any number of reasons to be skeptical of Gaby's argument. (I've dealt with some of them here and here.)

But I'll make three new points:

First, at least as it applies to Collins, the encouragement-via-praise approach has been tried and it's failed: Collins had a 68% lifetime rating with LCV when it endorsed her in 2006, presumably with hopes similar to those espoused by Gaby. Today her lifetime rating stands one tick lower at 67%. And she never got behind the only viable climate change proposal that surfaced in the Senate during that period.

Second, it's clear as day that EDF's agenda here has almost nothing to do with Collins or a couple of cherry-picked votes--let alone the interests of Mainers. Rather, it's about a larger game.

Whether the goal is actually to try to change the political dynamic around environmental issues or whether it's simply about appeasing wealthy right-leaning donors (or something else entirely) is impossible to say. But plainly, Collins is being used as a pawn. The fact that she's happy to be used in this way doesn't make the ad itself--or the calculation behind it--any less disingenuous.

Third, whatever their aims, groups like EDF would have more credibility in this kind of effort if they were willing to pair their praise of Collins with a commitment to call out her bad acts. After all, you can't advance the cause of environmental defense through happy talk alone; constituents deserve an accurate picture of the political challenges that stand in the way of success.

For mission-based organizations, the imperative to be straight with with members, donor and stakeholders requires candor. Or it ought to.

UPDATE: Jonathan Cohn alerts us to the fact that according to MCAF's own website, MCAF "is a special project of the Environmental Defense Fund, which provides the funding and staff support."

EDF's unwillingness to confirm this relationship is rather curious.