Monday, December 31, 2007

Tooting Our Own Horn

We'll have a big picture post up shortly analyzing where things stand, as we enter 2008, in the Collins-Allen race.

But before we get to that, I'd like to take a moment to pat ourselves on the back for the work we did in 2007, and to ask for your help.

First, a quick look back at some of our proudest moments over the course of the year:

--We documented the corporate-dominated slant of Sen. Collins' fundraising, even as local media ignored the story: Collins Watch readers were among the first to learn that the junior senator has received more money from business PACs than from all Mainers combined.

--We outed the editor of the Bangor Daily News as a former Collins staffer, helping to set the stage for his recusal from 2008 race coverage decisions. BDN did the right thing. But the nudging certainly didn't hurt.

--Just last week, our continuing coverage of the Collins-friendly astroturf campaign on the Kennebec Journal's letters page resulted in the publication of a letter calling Republicans out for their shady tactics. The astroturf may continue, but Collins allies will now have to think twice.

--Month after month, we delivered readers the latest news. And we put it all in context, drawing attention to overlooked stories (e.g. an obscure article revealing Sen. Collins' hypocritical out-of-state fundraising strategy) and refuting misleading pieces in the Maine and national press.

Of course, as we move into 2008, the volume of media distortions, candidate misrepresentations and questionable behavior will only grow. And that's where you come in.

Because Collins Watch is an independent, privately-run blog: It receives zero funding from campaigns, committees and party organizations. Which means our budget is essentially nil.

And while we'd like to ramp up coverage as the 2008 race gathers steam, it will be difficult to do this without your support.

So if you value the kind of independent, timely, vigorous, opinionated coverage that we've been providing--if you think it serves as a corrective to media outlets that parrot talking points rather than questioning them--consider clicking the 'donate' button at right.

There are a number of exciting ideas we have for upgrading our coverage in 2008, and your contribution will help make them reality.

A couple of important caveats:

1. Only give if you can easily afford it. We'll keep writing Collins Watch whether we get 200, 20 or two contributions. And while we like to think we're doing important work here, there are a lot of other worthier causes.

2. If you work for a party or campaign, don't even try to contribute. (We promise to do a better job than the KJ of vetting contributors.)

End of sermon. Now, back to your regularly scheduled program...

Thursday, December 27, 2007

They Write Letters

From today's Kennebec Journal:

I am rather curious about a couple of the letters being printed in the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel as of late.

As a proud Democratic party officer, I have no qualms in saying that I feel Tom Allen would do a wonderful job as a senator, and that Susan Collins needs to go. Of course I believe this: I'm a Democratic party officer! It's why I would never think to write letters to the editor touting my candidate -- or if I did, I'd identify myself as who I was.

That being said, University of Maine Farmington's College Republican Chair, Keith Mahoney, and the new District 55 representative, David Cotta, leave me scratching my head. They write letters to the editor touting Collins, but fail to note the fact they, too, are partisans. All while Mahoney remarks about the "blatant partisanship of Allen's campaign."

This leads me to ask, are they trying to pull the wool over the eyes of the editorial staff and readership? Or are they merely recognizing how tarnished the Republican brand is, and doing all they can to conceal it?

Edward Lachowicz

Vice Chair, Kennebec County Democratic Committee
Amen.

For those who've only tuned in recently, it's worth underscoring that the pro-Collins astroturf campaign stretches back into early 2007.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

What Spud1 Said

There are a bunch of problems with the Maine Sunday Telegram article on the junior senator's relationship with Sen. Joe Lieberman (CFL-CT). And Spud1 enumerates most of them.

The piece isn't the worst we've seen. But parts of it read like a Collins press release. And in describing the race, reporter Jonathan Kaplan adopts the Collins camp's preferred frame: Collins is a "centrist"; only hot-headed "liberal" Democrats oppose Lieberman. Etc.

The worst stretch comes in a discussion of the Government Affairs committee:

Lieberman is the chairman and Collins is the senior Republican on the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee. They have alternated roles twice since 2001, when party majorities changed hands.

[...]

The panel has broad jurisdiction to investigate everything from the White House and executive branch to the U.S. Postal Service, the Census Bureau and local government in Washington, D.C.

[...]

In 2005, when Collins chaired the panel, they wrote and passed legislation that reformed the structure of the U.S. government's intelligence community. They produced the only bipartisan report on the government's failure to respond adequately to Hurricane Katrina.

Lieberman and Collins plan to continue investigating the roots of Islamic extremism in the United States, how to prevent suicide bombings in this country and revamping government contracting laws.
Context, anyone?

Lieberman has been a disaster as committee chair. And Collins was much worse. But the article simply parrots their version of the last six years without providing anything resembling a critique.

As Brad DeLong might say, why oh why can't we have a better Maine press corps?

UPDATE: In comments Mainefem notices that Jonathan Kaplan has a history of embracing GOP-friendly narratives in his reporting.

The analysis at the above link fails to mention that he also publicly called former Rep. Tom Delay a "very good" majority leader; has reported for The National Review; and has written dismissively about the six months he spent working for Tipper Gore.

Kaplan seems to be a new PPH hire. Let's hope this article isn't a sign of what to expect from him in the future.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Astroturf Watch

Would you believe that a Republican member of the Maine House thinks Sen. Collins is "the candidate best able to address the profound challenges we face as a country"?

And would you believe that the Kennebec Journal would run his letter without identifying him as an elected Republican official?

Look, this doesn't even qualify as astroturfing anymore.

It's just Republicans spotting an opportunity--the failure of the Kennebec journal and other papers to exercise anything like control of their letters sections--and taking advantage of it.

At a certain point, the onus shifts to the Allen campaign: Either they need to make an issue of this practice or admit that they're content for Sen. Collins to receive a steady trickle of positive publicity in letters pages across the state.

Or they need to flood the papers with letters in the same way the Collins folks have.

Friends Without Benefits

Sen. Collins on President Bush and LIHEAP:

Every year, we do battle with the president to get him to release the money.
Sure enough, here's Sen. Collins battling the President a few years ago at, I believe, a White House Christmas party.

Maybe someone needs to spend more time battling and less time enabling?

Sunday, December 16, 2007

One Way Street

The junior senator has stood shoulder-to-shoulder with President Bush these last seven years: On Iraq, tax cuts for the super-rich, smashing habeas corpus, Samuel Alito and corrupt defense contracting.

And part of the unspoken justification for her alliance with the President is that it serves Maine to have the ear of the White House. When crisis strikes, Mainers want representatives with clout and influence.

But as Spud1 notes, it's Sen. Collins' friend the President who is blocking the emergency LIHEAP funding that low-income Mainers desperately need:

President Bush vetoed $2.4 billion for the program last month, because it was $480 million more than he requested.
Yes, you read that right.

Sen. Collins' comrade is holding up emergency funds to prevent low-income people from freezing because the bill includes $480 million more than he'd like it to.

Remember: $480 million is about two days worth of Iraq funding.

If the junior senator's years of cozying up to the administration can't even produce emergency LIHEAP funds, what do she--and Maine--have to show for her years of steadfast support for the President?

UPDATE: It's worth noting that the same one-way-street argument could be made about Sen. Collins and Republicans in the Senate.

Namely: If she had real clout in the GOP caucus--or chits to call in from her GOP colleagues--she could use her position with fellow Republicans to force an override of the President's veto.

But apparently, she doesn't have that kind of influence.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Astroturf Watch

This just in: The Chairman of the University of Maine at Farmington College Republicans--and the statewide 2006-7 Maine College Republicans activist of the year--thinks Sen. Collins is doing a fantastic job.

Shocking, I know.

Too bad he didn't tell the Kennebec Journal of his affiliation before they printed his letter.

And too bad that the editors of the Journal didn't think it was worth spending five seconds on Google to find out that a committed partisan was using their paper to disseminate Republican talking points.

More on pro-Collins astroturfing here.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Choices

Give credit to the Bangor Daily News for taking the Bushies to task for moving the goal posts on Iraq.

Still, it's telling that even in a critical editorial, there's no discussion about what our goal in Iraq is, or how America's continued occupation of the country might be thought to advance our national interests.

That's not so much a criticism of BDN's editorial writers as it is a symptom of how very far the Iraq debate has drifted from any discussion of America's priorities and the best uses of our limited resources.

Grown-ups know that as a nation, we simply can't afford to occupy Iraq, cut taxes and (for example) give heating assistance to everyone who needs it--while at the same time maintaining domestic spending at current levels.

But occupation supporters seem to want to talk about anything and everything but the trade-offs that their chosen policy has forced us to confront.

Let's hope that someone, somewhere in the Maine press focuses on those choices in 2008.

(Via Turn Maine Blue).

Monday, December 10, 2007

The Lautenberg Letters

Spud1 flags Senate Guru's analysis of Sen. Collins' tenure as chair of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

As we recently noted, the picture isn't pretty.

But Guru produces a stack of four pointed letters from Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) that I hadn't previously seen. The letters, dating back to 2003, practically beg Maine's junior senator to fulfill her oversight responsibilities.

For example, from Sept. 23, 2003:

Dear Senator Collins:

Last May, we urged you to convene hearings in the Governmental Affairs Committee to investigate the Iraqi reconstruction contracts that were awarded through a closed or limited bidding process..

Since we last wrote to you...the Wall Street Journal recently reported that the initial value of a no-bid Iraqi contract awarded to Halliburton by the Army Corps of Engineers has ballooned to $1.25 billion, which is $500 million more than what was projected earlier this month...

Earlier this month, the President also asked for an additional $20 billion for Iraqi reconstruction as part of his larger supplemental appropriations request. Unfortunately, the President provided no assurances that the billions of dollars in new contracts will not be awarded through similarly secretive processes. However, the importance of a transparent and open bidding process for federal contracts cannot be overstated...

We are reiterating our request for hearings on all post-war Iraq contracts awarded by the Bush Administration through a closed or limited bidding process. With these hearings, we would hope to examine the details surrounding these secretive contracting procedures, and explore what additional safeguards are needed to restore the public's confidence in the integrity of our procurement system.
Again, this was 2003.

The writing wasn't just on the wall. It was on Senate letterhead.

More than four years later, the price tag for Sen. Collins' inaction continues to grow.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Risking Offense

There's nothing particularly objectionable about Sen. Collins' Op-Ed on fuel prices and energy independence. But that's actually part of the problem.

Because there's no way to end our country's reliance on foreign oil ("addiction" is too weak a word) without offending either big business or the oil companies, environmentalists or the automakers--or all of the above:

Do we spend staggering sums of money on research in development in a way that crowds out other spending? Do we make a national commitment to nuclear power and wind farms? Do we allow more oil drilling in Alaska, the gulf coast and just about everywhere in between?

These are difficult questions; they desperately need to be answered. But answering them is bound to anger somebody.

Yet Sen. Collins--even as she calls for a "Herculean effort"--doesn't seem prepared to back any plan nearly bold enough to actually solve the problem.

To wit: While I'm glad she's sponsored a $275 million dollar R & D amendment to the energy bill, let's not kid ourselves--that's chump change.

Collins' amendment sets aside about as much for a year's worth of R & D as we're spending in Iraq every six hours.

(Priorities, anyone?)

The junior senator also touts the current attempt in Congress to raise the gas mileage standards for cars and trucks. But the increases she's lauding don't take effect until 2020, and they've faced little more than token opposition from the automakers.

Will 35 mpg in 2020 really solve the problem? And can we really wait that long?

Finally, Sen. Collins warns of the dangers of "speculation" and price-manipulation in the futures market, suggesting that traders are driving up prices.

The junior senator clearly knows far more about this issue than I do. But everything I've read (including this) suggests that the rapid rise in oil's price over the last few years has been driven, at its core, by increases in demand against the backdrop of finite supply.

Speculation may play some role at the margins, but no one seems to think we're going back to $30-per-barrel oil anytime soon. So intimations that nefarious traders are at the heart of our energy conundrum--and, implicitly, that the conundrum can be resolved simply by reining in Wall Street--is disingenuous at best.

Or, to put it another way, whatever you think of Collins' donor base, don't blame the spike in oil prices on them.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

They Write Op-Eds

The junior sentaor pens a column for the Bangor Daily News.

More on this later.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Condescension Watch

Check out this passage from the latest post at Susan's Blog:

A remarkable aspect of our state is the interest and involvement of our residents in foreign policy. Wherever I travel in Maine, from our biggest cities to our smallest villages, I am consistently impressed by the interest the people of Maine have in better understanding the world and our place in it.
Okay, not exactly earth-shattering.

But it does reek of the patronizing attitude that comes from being in Washington too long. (Can you believe it? Those quaint small town folks actually find time to think about things!)

Memo to the junior senator: Of course Mainers are working to understand these issues. With our soldiers caught in the middle of a civil war and our national reputation in the tank, they have no choice.

Our know-nothing foreign policy leaders--enabled six of the last seven years by weak-kneed Republican congressional majorities--certainly haven't been minding the store.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Asleep at the Wheel?

Spud1 notices a new CREW report documenting waste at the Department of Homeland Security. A department, you'll remember, over which Sen. Collins had oversight responsibility until this January.

Among the findings is what CREW terms a "$2 billion loss on the SBInet 'virtual fence' border program."

I don't know enough about the program--or about CREW's methodology--to know whether that ten-figure "loss" is as shocking as it seems.

But I'm pretty sure that allowing DHS to remain a bastion of cronyism and incompetence won't stop the wasteful spending.

(It won't solve our illegal immigration problems either.)

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Away Game

In Susan Cover's interview with Maine Republican Party Executive Director Julie O’Brien, we learn:

Early in 2008, Republican incumbent Sen. Susan Collins will open her campaign headquarters in Portland, and O’Brien expects national attention to follow soon thereafter.

“I do know people on the national level will be playing in Maine with resources,” she said.
Hmm.

Will be? I'd say the floodgates are already open.

As we noted two weeks ago:

Seven out of every ten dollars raised by Collins has come from outside of Maine.

She's raised more money for this race in the DC metro region than from any city in Maine.

She's raised more money from one zip code in Paradise Valley, AZ than any Maine zip code but one. (04107: Cape Elizabeth.)

And she's raised more money from business PACs than from all of her in-state donors combined.
Call me kooky, but I think that qualifies as "national attention."

Or is Sen. Collins camp planning to crank it up a couple of notches?

Monday, November 26, 2007

Collins and Race

Sen. Trent Lott's (R-MS) retirement is a reminder that the Julie Myers episode isn't the first time Sen. Collins has allowed racial sensitivity to take a backseat to other considerations.

Lott, you'll remember, was widely condemned after observing, at the birthday of then-Senator Strom Thurmond, who ran in the 1948 presidential race as a segregationist:

We voted for him. We’re proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn’t have had all these problems over the years, either.
But that wasn't all.

It soon became apparent that Lott had a long history of racially-charge rhetoric, coded racial appeals and association with known segregationists.

As the controversy snowballed, growing uglier and more humiliating by the day, the GOP found itself in crisis. There was no choice but to take decisive action to remove the stain: Lott was swiftly booted from his Senate leadership post.

Flash forward to 2006: Less than four years after exposing himself as a dabbler in racism and an ally of racists, Lott makes the surprising decision to run for Senate minority whip. And incredibly, he wins.

The hard-fought contest against Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) ends in a 25-24 vote among Republican senators.

Following Lott's victory, Republicans moved quickly to dispel the notion that his resurrection said anything about their racial attitudes. They denied that his elevation to the leadership amounted to tacit tolerance for racism and disputed that earlier repudiations of his behavior were political theatre.

What, you may ask, does any of this have to do with Maine's junior senator?

Sen. Collins cast the deciding vote in Lott's favor.

That's right: Faced with a choice between elevating Lott and freezing him out, the junior senator opted to make him the number two Republican in the Senate.

Now. Let me be clear. I'm not saying Collins is a racist--I have no reason to believe that's the case.

But both the vote for Lott and the support for Myers do suggest that when it comes to race, Collins is willing to tolerate conduct that crosses way over the line.

And that she's ready to forgive racism among her Republican allies even when letting them off the hook sends a depressing message to racism's victims.

Make of that what you will.

UPDATE: Is it all about money? I doubt it. But Lott's PAC New Republican Majority Fund has contributed $5,000 to Sen. Collins this cycle.

UPDATE UPDATE: Via Senate Guru here's a link to the definitive account of Collins' role in putting Lott back in the GOP leadership in the senate.

Myers Watch

Unlike Sen. Collins, both the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle have come out against the Julie Myers nomination.

From the Plain Dealer:

When Julie Myers judged as "most original" a white employee's Halloween costume--dark makeup, dreadlocks and a prison jumpsuit--it wasn't the first time she was exposed as woefully unqualified to lead the Department of Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement branch.

Two years ago, when President Bush nominated her, Congress questioned her ability to direct a $4 billion agency of 20,000. At the time, Ohio Sen. George Voinovich wanted a personal explanation from Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff as to "why he thinks you're qualified for the job, because based on the résumé, I don't think you are."

He was right, and it's time for her to go.

[...]

Directing ICE should not be a patronage bone. The agency deserves a top-caliber manager who can deftly steer it through tumultuous times. Myers isn't that person.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Collins Calls for Higher Taxes?

Apparently so. (Via Maine Democrats.)

Although you have to wonder why BDN snuck the article's most interesting revelation into the nineteenth paragraph of a twenty-one paragraph story:

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, expects there will be a temporary patch of the AMT this year, even though she supports a permanent repeal of the tax. She said a better way to assure upper-income taxpayers pay more in taxes would be to set higher rates for them instead of using the AMT.
Let's unpack this.

Collins wants to permanently repeal the Alternative Minimum Tax, which the article says will hit about 85,000 Mainers this year.

And she wants to pay for it with higher rates for "upper-income taxpayers."

Fair enough: It's a perfectly legitimate position to take. But it's an extraordinarily strange stance for someone who's voted for every single one of President Bush's giant, budget-busting tax cuts for the super-rich.

Does Collins now regret those votes? Is she ready to repudiate them?

BDN reporter Mal Leary doesn't seem to have asked those questions. But someone better: Repealing the AMT will cost approximately $800 billion over the next decade.

That comes to more than $2500 for every man, woman and child in America. Not exactly pocket change.

So if Sen. Collins wants to close the gap by raising taxes on "upper-income taxpayers" Mainers deserve to know exactly which taxpayers she has in mind.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Myers Watch

In the wake of the notorious Halloween party incident, Sen. Collins--in a rare show of openness and clarity--has gone ahead and taken a bold, decisive stand on the nomination of Julie Myers to head the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE).

Hooray!

Well, not so fast.

Because it turns out that Collins has taken exactly the wrong position: She says she'll vote to confirm the thirty-six year-old lawyer.

"Sen. Collins has concluded that Ms. Myers recognizes that she made serious mistakes in judgment. She clearly regrets the incident and has apologized. Despite this incident, Sen. Collins believes that Ms. Myers has done a good job leading ICE," said Collins' spokeswoman.
This is a big deal.

Remember, Myers arrived at ICE in 2006 without any relevant immigration or managerial experience. Connections were her main credential: She's the niece of retired Joint Chiefs Chair Richard B. Myers and the wife of Michael Chertoff's then-chief of staff.

Two years later, the Halloween incident--with Myers' display of casual racism and staggeringly bad judgment--gives Collins the perfect opportunity to withdraw her support for a nomination that should never have been put forward in the first place.

And yet, as red state Republicans abandon ship, Collins still stands with the Bushies.

Not last year. Not last month. Today.

With everything the country's been through, she's still content to side with cronyism against competence; with stunningly bad judgment at the expense of professionalism; with racial insensitivity--at the top of an immigration-related agency, no less--and against accountability.

Has the junior senator learned nothing over the last seven years? From the Iraq fiasco? From the Walter Reed mess? From Hurricane Katrina?

Simply put: When is enough enough?

This is about abetting political sleaze, to be sure. It's about political favors and horsetrading and nepotism. But it isn't just about that.

Because ICE is one of the most important agencies in the executive branch.

It's charged with one of the trickiest and most important jobs in government: Protecting our borders and keeping Americans safe while at the same time allowing goods and people to move smoothly and efficiently over national boundaries.

It's pivotal, in other words, to both our national security and economic well-being.

Especially to Maine, with its $4+ billion trading relationship with Canada.

So how else to read Collins' support for Myers but as a repudiation of Maine voters and their interests?

And if the junior senator is willing to thumb her nose at constituents during a contested campaign, what can Mainers expect from her after she wins re-election?

Office Hours

Press Release:

U.S. Senator Susan Collins today announced that a representative from her Augusta office will hold office hours in Cambridge on Thursday, November 29th.

Staff Assistant Charles Mahaleris will be available to hear constituents voice any concerns they might have and to provide assistance with federal issues and agencies, such as Social Security, Veterans Affairs, Citizenship and Immigration. No appointment is necessary.

Cambridge Town Office
202 Ripley Road
Cambridge
Thursday, November 29th
6:00 PM – 7:00 PM

Questions can be directed to Senator Collins’ Augusta office at 207-622-8414.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Myers Watch

Here's Sen. Kit Bond (R-MO) on the status of Julie Myers's nomination to head the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE):

"Our nation's immigration enforcement agency needs noncontroversial leadership. That would be best served by going in a different direction with this nomination."
So Bond--no liberal pawn--wants her out.

Where is Sen. Collins on the Myers nomination? Would it be so hard for her to do the right thing here?

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Senator From Away?

In comments over at Turn Maine Blue, GordonM points to the updated fundraising tallies over at OpenSecrets.org, which now include the 2008 race.

There's a wealth of data on the site. And looking it over, one quickly learns that Collins has raised more money--and a higher percentage of her money--out-of-state than has Rep. Allen.

But that's really the least of it.

Because just about every statistic listed has one fascinating thing in common: They all puncture the narrative that the Collins camp has been pushing throughout this campaign.

Consider:

Seven out of every ten dollars raised by Collins has come from outside of Maine.

She's raised more money for this race in the DC metro region than from any city in Maine.

She's raised more money from one zip code in Paradise Valley, AZ than any Maine zip code but one. (04107: Cape Elizabeth.)

And she's raised more money from business PACs than from all of her in-state donors combined.

It's not clear to me how the candidate favored by Washington DC, big business and Paradise Valley, AZ has gotten away with portraying herself as the victim of outside forces rather than the tool of them.

But it's clearly time for the Maine media to stop indulging this fantasy.

UPDATE: Just in case you were wondering--we certainly were--Paradise Valley, AZ is a town of 14,558 just outside Phoenix.

According to Wikipedia, it sports twelve resorts, a median household income of $150,228 and a median home price of $1.74 million.

Collins: I Need $8 Mil

This according to the Philadelphia-based Jewish Exponent.

The kicker--wait for it--is that Collins says she wants to raise most of that money outside Maine:

Collins said that she needs to raise at least $8 million to remain competitive, the bulk of which would need to come from out-of-state donors.

In fact, picking up some campaign cash was high on Collins' agenda while here in Pennsylvania.

Toward that end, [Republican Jewish Coalition] member Judy Davidson hosted a Sunday-night fundraiser for the senator in Chester County.
Where to start?

It's worth mentioning, first, that I've never understood the view that money raised out-of-state is somehow tainted. This is a big country, we're all Americans and we all have a right (a duty?) to be involved in the national political process.

But here's the thing: That position has not been Sen. Collin's position.

In fact, back in April, she castigated her political opponents for daring to use out-of-state dollars to fuel their ad campaign.

And now she's not only welcoming out-of-state donations. She's making them the backbone of her financing operation and declaring them a critical part of her campaign strategy?

Others can decide where this ranks on the hypocrisy meter.

But the next time the Collins camp talks about the nefarious influence of Maine outsiders, the first question should be why they're defaming their own donors.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The 'B' Word

John Aravosis has a question for Sen. Collins.

Collins Still Opposes Iraq Timelines

Just in case there was any doubt:

Collins, who won't decide whether to support the war supplemental until she sees the language, said the key to the Nelson-Collins proposal is its call for a change of mission in Iraq without specifically setting any withdrawal timelines.
Wonderful.

If President Bush, Sen. Collins and Collins presidential endorsee Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) get their way, we'll be in Iraq for a very, very long time.

UPDATE: For those just tuning in, it's worth underscoring that Collins is the only member of the Maine congressional delegation to oppose an Iraq redeployment timeline.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Duffy: Collins Vulnerable

Link:

Of the 11 Senate seats rated as competitive by Jennifer Duffy, an analyst at the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, only two belong to Democrats, and neither is considered to be in dire jeopardy.

[...]

Maine Sen. Susan Collins (R) has $3 million in the bank; her Democratic challenger, Rep. Tom Allen, has $2 million. This is Collins’ first serious challenge, and the timing could be fatal.

A moderate from a small state where the war in Iraq and President Bush are highly unpopular, her profile mirrors that of former Rhode Island Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R), who lost his seat last year.

“If they can wrap Bush around Chafee’s neck, why not Collins?” asks Duffy.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Horses, Barns, Etc.

Sen. Collins has a new blog post up patting herself on the back for her work on the new federal contracting bill:

The legislation will implement many reforms, including requiring more competition in the award of government contracts. Fewer than 50 percent of federal contracts are awarded using full and open competition despite the obvious benefits of lower prices and better quality that competition helps to ensure.
I haven't read enough about the bill to have an opinion of it.

But the key take-away point here is: That horse has already left the barn.

Look: Collins was chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs from the beginning of the Iraq war through 2006.

She could have pushed through contracting reform legislation in 2003, when stories of lax contracting procedures started to emerge.

She could have acted in 2004 as the problem grew worse, or in 2005, in the wake of the calamitous federal response to Hurricane Katrina.

Even in 2006, legislation outlawing the Bush administration's unique approach--a potent mixture of chaos and corruption--could have saved billions of dollars and perhaps even lives.

But Collins, the senator best-positioned to force change, didn't lift a finger to hold the Bushies accountable for their dangerous and expensive procurement practices. As our Iraq adventure morphed from a failure into a tragedy, and then into an abomination, she stayed on the sidelines.

It's a particularly glaring (and costly) example of fecklessness in the face of disaster. And it's one that ought to be aired and analyzed during this senate race.

Mooney: Maine Wants New Leaders

Am I wrong to read this Op-Ed by Republican second district congressional candidate Thomas Cornelius Mooney as a slap at Sen. Collins? I don't think so:

A palpable sense of desperation was evident in the voice of most every person involved in this teleconference. And while Sen. Collins was very empathetic and considerate in her responses to them, one couldn’t help but come away with the sense that a majority of Mainers remain deeply dissatisfied with our leaders, and that our nation is very much on the wrong track.

[...]

Americans must now elect new, more courageous leadership to help transform our nation; to reprioritize spending, and invest in our own people, for this season, and for seasons to come.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

They Write Op-Eds

Craig and Kathie Jamison Cote, in Saturday's BDN:

Veterans Day holds a special significance for us as the parents of a sergeant tank commander in the U.S. Army serving in Iraq.

[...]

Instead of accepting the reality of the situation on the ground and listening to the American people, the president continues to stand by a failed strategy and Sen. Collins follows him down this dangerous path, at times saying that she is against the war but refusing to support binding legislation to end it. She is the lone remaining member of our state's congressional delegation to endorse the president's failed policy.

[...]

Sen. Collins won't even explain her position to her constituents, having turned down an invitation to a community town hall to discuss Iraq in Orono this summer. As constituents of Sen. Collins, and as the parents of a soldier serving in Iraq, we find it personally insulting that Sen. Collins won't answer questions from her constituents on the war in such forums.
Emphasis added.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Myers Watch

When a young lawyer named Julie Myers was nominated in 2005 to head the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE), questions were raised about her thin resume, which didn't contain any relevant immigration or bureaucracy management experience.

She did happen, however, to be the niece of retired Joint Chiefs Chair Richard B. Myers, and the wife of Michael Chertoff's chief of staff. Seriously.

Democrats held up her nomination.

But Myers, 36--vastly underqualified to manager a giant new agency with 20,000 employees--was given a recess appointment by the Bush administration.

Sen. Collins supported Myers.

Flash forward to this week: With Myers once again up for confirmation (as her recess appointment nears its expiration) Collins is having second thoughts:

A key Senate Republican has launched an investigation into the circumstances surrounding a controversial Halloween party at the Homeland Security Department, in which an agency director approved of a racially insensitive costume.

Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs ranking member Susan Collins, R-Maine, said Wednesday she asked her staff to question Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director Julie Myers over the incident.

Myers, whose confirmation is pending in the Senate, had judged an employee's costume of dreadlocks, dark makeup and prison stripes as the most original at an ICE party last week and even posed for photographs with the worker.

Collins said she is now withholding judgment whether to support Myers' nomination.
Myers also allegedly had the photographs destroyed.

In any event, with the Myers nomination--and as so often seems to be the case--Sen. Collins seems to be less troubled by questions of substance than with appearances.

Of course, in this case, appearances matter: It's beyond unprofessional for the head of a major government agency to tolerate casual racism, let alone to endorse it.

But anyone who was paying attention knew Myers wasn't right for the ICE job two years ago.

Rothenberg: Collins Vulnerable

Via Maine Politics, we learn that the latest rankings from the Rothenberg Political Report classify the Collins-Allen race as "narrow advantage for incumbent."

It's one of eight races the nonpartisan report sees as competitive.

Mukasey Watch

I'm a little late in noting that Sen. Collins voted in favor of Michael Mukasey's appointment as Attorney General yesterday.

Apparently she's content to have a chief law enforcement officer who's vague about whether he intends to enforce the laws.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Allen: Iraq War A Fiscal Mess, Too

They write columns:

Advocates of changing the mission say it could leave around 60,000 troops in Iraq indefinitely (although the number could be much higher). The CBO evaluated a scenario that is consistent with this strategy at a cost of another $687 billion through 2017. And, since all of this is deficit spending, CBO projects that American taxpayers will spend an additional $152 billion in interest on this borrowed money by 2017.

As a member of Congress for 11 years and of the House Budget Committee for the last three, I can attest that such forecasts invariably underestimate the eventual cost and that the credibility of predictions from administration officials has been consistently unreliable.
$687 billion could cover a lot of diabetes prevention programs.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Another New Poll

Via Senate Guru, we learn of another poll, this one from Survey USA: Collins 55%; Allen 38%.

Those numbers are roughly in line with what we've been seeing elsewhere lately.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Maine and Term Limits

Maine Democrats flags a Kennebec Journal article discussing Tuesday's election referendum number five:

The fifth ballot question would extend term limits for state legislators from four consecutive terms, or eight years; to six consecutive terms, or 12 years.

Voters passed the current law in 1993, effective in 1996. Maine is one of 15 states with term limits for state lawmakers, and the only one in New England.

[...]

In a statewide poll of likely voters released last week...most opposed changing the term-limits law.

The Critical Insights poll of 408 people, with a margin of error of 4.1 percentage points, found...close to two-thirds of those polled--64 percent--opposed allowing state lawmakers to keep their jobs longer. Only 32 percent supported it, with another 4 percent undecided.
Interesting.

Of course, whether it tells us anything about how Mainers will weigh Sen. Collins' broken term-limit promise as the 2008 race heats up is an open question.

But the lopsided results suggest breaking the two-term pledge just might come back to haunt her.

Friday, November 2, 2007

New Poll

Via Maine Web Report we learn about a new poll from Critical insights: 54% to 34%, in favor of Sen. Collins. 12% undecided.

Charge It

Sen. Collins sure has a lot of ideas for spending tax dollars.

The problem is, you can't have it both ways: You can't support every single one of President Bush's budget-busting tax cuts for the mega-rich, and then turn around and complain about funding cuts.

While at the same time touting your credentials as a deficit hawk.

Most Republicans want to cut taxes and shrink the government. Most Democrats want to let tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires expire, investing the revenue in healthcare, the environment, etc.

But Sen. Collins votes for low taxes for the rich and plenty of new spending.

It's an intellectually dishonest and fiscally irresponsible position. And it's one of the reasons the country is swimming in debt.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

All Pops and Buzzes

Sen. Collins says that "a lot more work needs to be done." And she calls for agencies to work together.

But I don't think I can locate a single idea, proposal or bit of policy analysis in this entire five minute softball interview:



Encouraging people to work better or harder or with more coordination isn't leadership. It's cheerleading.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Mukasey Watch

Attorney General nominee Michael Mukasey isn't sure whether the interrogation practice of near-asphyxiation--triggering the gag reflex via simulated drowning--is intended to cause suffering or prolonged mental harm.

What does Sen. Collins think about waterboarding? About Mukasey? Why hasn't anyone in the Maine press corps asked her?

Monday, October 29, 2007

They Get Endorsements

The Maine AFL-CIO is with Rep. Tom Allen. From their press release:

BANGOR--Delegates to the Maine AFL-CIO Convention voted unanimously to endorse Rep. Tom Allen, Democrat, in the U.S. Senate race with incumbent Susan Collins.

"Congressman Allen has consistently championed the interest of Maine’s working families," said AFL-CIO President Eddie Gorham. "On trade, jobs, health care and worker rights to organize he has led the way."

[...]

Congressman Allen has a 96% lifetime AFL-CIO voting record whereas Senator Collins has a 34% lifetime voting record..."When you compare the two candidates on working family issues its no contest," added Matt Schlobohm, Maine AFL-CIO political director...

The Maine AFL-CIO represents more than 30,000 workers throughout the state of Maine.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Office Hours

Press release:

U.S. Senator Susan Collins today announced that a representative from her Bangor office will hold office hours in Danforth on Thursday, November 8th.

Staff Assistant Jessie Logan will be available to hear constituents voice any concerns they might have and to provide assistance with federal issues and agencies, such as Social Security, Veterans Affairs, Citizenship and Immigration. No appointment is necessary.

Danforth Town Office
18 Central Street
Danforth
Thursday, November 8th
10:30 AM – 12:30 PM
Questions about Iraq, FISA and habeas corpus would also, presumably, be entertained.

BDN Loads The Deck

Friday's Bangor Daily News features a maddeningly misleading article, built on a loaded premise, about Senate race fundraising.

The fog rolls in right in the first paragraph:

Sen. Susan Collins has received more money from her congressional colleagues than any other member of Congress, and Rep. Tom Allen has received more money from out of state than any other House member.
This obscures much more than it reveals.

Allen, after all, isn't running for the House. And his House colleagues aren't running for the Senate. So comparing his fundraising profile to those of his House colleagues sets up a false and unhelpful contrast.

What readers need to know, instead, to determine whether Allen is up to anything unusual, is how his fundraising compares to other candidates for Senate.

Figuring this out isn't exactly rocket science.

So it's extremely hard to understand why reporter Rebekah Metzler would build her story around this red herring rather than looking for a more meaningful measure of Allen's out-of-state support.

Unfortunately, it gets worse.

Because for all the article's talk of Allen's out-of-state funds (and there's a lot of it) Metzler apparently couldn't find any space to answer the obvious companion question How much money is Sen. Collins raising outside of Maine?

But the answer to that question saps the article of whatever credibility it has left.

Consider: According to OpenSecrets.org, Sen. Collins received nearly $1.3 million in out-of-state funds between 2001 and 2006. (2006-7 data is not yet available on the site.)

That amounts to more than sixty percent of the funds she raised during the period, compared to less than forty percent in Maine.

Contrast those totals to Allen's $500,000 in out-of-state money, which amounts to "about a fourth" of his total receipts.

And Allen is the one whose out-of-state money is drawing scrutiny? Even though Collins has historically raised far more money--and a higher percentage of it--outside Maine than Allen has in this race? It's enough to make a person's head spin.

Now, perhaps the Collins camp duped Metzler into parroting their charges. Or maybe what we're seeing here is simply sloppy reporting.

But whatever the case, it's disturbing. And it deserves an explanation.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Right Flank

Sen. Collins has made it onto the conservative Powerline blog's Pork Dishonor Role for supporting wasteful spending. And the right-leaning, Collins-friendly Examiner is accusing her and some other Republicans of "jump[ing] off a political cliff."

Says the Examiner:

Some [of these Republicans] are retiring, thank goodness. It would be better for the GOP if all of them headed home for good.
I'm not sure why the junior senator is supporting hundreds of millions of dollars in earmarks for New York and Pennsylvania.

But these are two more votes Mainers might have wished that she'd missed.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Kennebec Journal Silliness

The paper's editors let op-Ed scribe George Smith get away with this gem:

Money drives your votes and rarely does the underfunded candidate win.

Sen. Susan Collins has raised $3.6 million for her 2008 re-election campaign while her Democratic challenger, U.S. Rep. Tom Allen, struggles along with just $2.2 million. Although she has one-third more money than Allen, Collins won't win by that margin. More like 10 to 12 percent.
Smith is free to make whatever prediction he wants.

But in an era where party money, DSCC and NRSC money and independent expenditures all matter, his suggestion that a campaign's health can be distilled down to one number is silly.

And his claim that "rarely does the underfunded candidate win" is just plain wrong.

There were 32 senate races in 2006 (Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN) ran unopposed). Of those 32, the candidate with less money won in eight. (Scroll down to "Candidate Receipts and Party Spending in All Senate Races, 2006" for a .PDF.)

That's nowhere near a majority, granted. But the 8 for 32 figure demonstrates pretty clearly that while money matters, it isn't destiny.

As I said, Smith is entitled to his opinion. But I wish Kennebec Journal's editors would hold him to the facts.

Monday, October 22, 2007

More On The Poll

My blasé initial reaction to the new Maine senate poll may have been premature. Digging deeper into the results, one number sticks out as a genuine surprise:

Sen. Collins' approval rating clocks in at an underwhelming 56% (adding up the "approve" and "strongly approve" columns.)

That amounts to a 13 point drop from SurveyUSA's July 25, 2006 result.

Now, you'd expect Collins' number to erode as the race unfolds. But a double-digit slide this early in the cycle strikes me as a newsworthy development. It suggests that the junior senator's consistent support for President Bush on Iraq has taken a significant toll.

UPDATE: I'd be remiss not to mention this April poll, which I'd somehow forgotten all about.

It shows similar results on the head-to-head question. I haven't yet been able to track down that survey's approval number for Collins.

Kos Poll

Markos Moulitsas and Co. have shelled out the big bucks for an independent Maine Senate race poll. And while I wish I could say that the results are shocking or provocative, they're about what you would expect:

If 2008 election for U.S. Senate were held today, for whom would you vote for if the choices were between Tom Allen, the Democrat, and Susan Collins, the Republican?

Collins (R) 56
Allen (D) 33
Kos adds:
Allen needs to push Collins below 50 percent within the next 4-6 months for this race to become top-tier. He's got the material to work with.
I think that's about right.

On the one hand, Rep. Allen certainly has his work cut out for him. He's going to need not just to get the word out about his own strengths, but change Mainers minds about a (relatively) popular legislator.

On the other hand, the race doesn't look like the slam dunk that Sen. Collins' backers might have expected it would be fifteen months ago. She's still the favorite, but to win she'll need to hold off a strong, serious challenge.

In other words, things are just about where you'd anticipate they'd be.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Question for ME Reporters

How does Sen. Collins feel about granting retroactive immunity to telecom companies that illegally shared customer records with the executive branch without a warrant?

Just wondering.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Dutson's Triumph

Just before we left town last week, we noticed Collins campaign consultant Lance Dutson complaining about Google's rejection of a few keyword ads that violated its policy toward trademarks.

Eight days later, it's worth taking a moment to examine how the Collins camp used that relatively mundane occurrence--something experienced by just about anyone who uses the Google's AdWords platform regularly--to kick up a right-wing media frenzy.

First, give Dutson et. al. credit: They understood that the rejection of Moveon.org-related keyword ads by Google feeds into--or could be portrayed to feed into--a pair of paranoid right-wing narratives that, while false, loom large in the Republican imagination:

1. That even though Republicans have been in control of all three branches of government for six of the last seven years, conservatives remain under the yoke of a corrupt, liberal-dominated establishment that won't give them a fair shake.

2. That (relatedly) secret, nefarious liberal alliances are plotting against them, conspiring to suppress their voices and undermine their interests.
As I say, these are both canards. But in certain circles, they're widely-believed canards.

So it couldn't have been hard for Dutson to place the story with Robert Cox, a right-wing blogger who, if I read him correctly, thinks that George W. Bush is basically a modern-day Abraham Lincoln.

And it couldn't have been hard for Cox to get the story into Examiner.com, an outlet owned by Discovery Institute-funding, Media Research Council-supporting, George W. Bush-admiring Philip Anschutz. From there, of course, it was just a hop, skip and a jump to Fox News.

That the legitimate media didn't take the bait is refreshing. But I doubt that was really even the Collins camp's hope. Instead, they were aiming (and succeeded) in portraying their candidate--who's never been a darling of the far-right--as under attack by the same evil forces that have it in for Rush Limbaugh, Vice President Dick Cheney, etc.

And you know what they say about enemies of enemies.

Whether this will work as a fundraising strategy is unclear. But it seems like a pretty savvy gambit to me.

Of course the downside, at least from a public interest perspective, is that the fake flap has nothing to do with the, y'know, issues.

Consider: Dutson has so far published eight separate blog posts about Google, but I only count one mention of the word "Iraq" on his entire front page.

Sen. Collins' own blog contains two mentions of Moveon.org, but her entire site contains not one mention of habeas corpus.

I guess this is the kind of campaign you run when your candidate is desperate not to talk about the issues. But it's not particularly edifying. And as things heat up--and the need to divert attention from the issues grows more intense--it ain't gonna be pretty.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Catching Up

We were away for the last few days, and there are a couple issues we'd like to get caught up on. But first an observation about the third quarter fundraising numbers.

While Sen. Collins retains a decisive lead--in both receipts and cash on hand--it seems clearer than ever that this race will not be decided by money.

Rep. Allen may not achieve one-to-one parity, but because he's also an incumbent--and because he'll likely be getting a fundraising hand from prominent blogs--he'll have no trouble bringing in plenty of money--more than enough to compete.

That sets the stage for a balanced race focused on the issues, at least if that's what both candidates want. Which is fantastic.

Of course, Sen. Collins and her team have demonstrated yet again in the last week that they're looking to discuss nearly anything but the issues facing Mainers.

More on that in the next day or two.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Q3 $$$ Totals

The AP delivers the goods:

Republican Sen. Susan Collins reported Monday she raised more than $1 million for her re-election campaign from July through September, bringing her total contributions to date to $3.6 million, with $3.1 million in cash on hand.

The campaign of Democratic challenger Tom Allen, the sixth-term congressman from Portland, reported receipts of $666,096 for the quarter, raising his total contributions for this election cycle to $2.2 million. Allen reported having $2.1 million on hand.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Moveon Again

Well, you knew it was coming: Sen. Collins is now using the Petraeus ad flap as part of a fundraising pitch.

It's entirely fair game, although one of the Collins camp's central charges is misleading: That "MoveOn.org has contributed more money to her opponent than all of the presidential candidates combined, $250,000 already."

Phrasing it that way conjures up images of a (nefarious) left-wing behemoth dumping a giant check on Rep. Allen.

But that hasn't happened--at least as far as I know. Instead, hundreds (thousands?) of individuals have responded to Moveon.org solicitations by making mostly small dollar donations to Allen's campaign.

So they're the ones doing the giving. Moveon is just using their megaphone--and their web platform--to draw attention to the race.

It's a subtle distinction, especially if you don't follow these types of things closely. But it's an important one. And it's why the National Republican Senatorial Committee, for example, has been careful to characterize the donations as "conduit donations" and to describe them as having been given "through"--rather than "by"--Moveon.org.

In any case, Lance Dutson and the Collins camp are making no such distinctions.

Speaking of Dutson, he's shocked and scandalized about Google's rejection of a few keyword ads that he tried to buy for Sen. Collins.

The story has been bouncing around the right-wing blogs all day, often with intimations that it amounts to some kind of conspiracy. (Paranoid, anyone?)

But as someone extremely familiar with Google AdWords from my real job, I think I can safely say that what Dutson encountered is pretty typical: Google rejects ads all the time, for a host of reasons--and often without the kind of consistency you might expect.

It's an inevitable upshot of managing a giant advertising platform in a litigious society.

In any case, the idea that a huge corporation--with hundreds of thousands of advertisers and billions in revenue--has singled out Dutson or Sen. Collins for unfavorable treatment isn't just silly. It's bonkers.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

"Little Interest" in Oversight?

Steve Benen brings us a snippet from an article on Iraq oversight in today's (subscription-only) Roll Call:

The day news broke that the Iraqi government was revoking the license of Blackwater USA over a questionable Baghdad shootout that killed 17 civilians, House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) announced plans for hearings to probe the State Department’s reliance on private security contractors.

On that same day--Sept. 17--Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.) announced two firefighting grants for the towns of Bolton and Willington in his home state.

Though the two committees have similar investigative powers and mandates to uncover waste, fraud and abuse of government funds, Waxman has held eight hearings on Iraq and contracting abuses this year, while Lieberman has held only one on reconstruction challenges in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

And though Waxman rarely has missed an opportunity to fire off angry letters to the administration over potential waste, fraud, abuse and misconduct among government contractors, Lieberman--along with his predecessor and current ranking member, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine)--has shown relatively little interest in tackling those issues.
But at least she's never missed a vote!

Monday, October 8, 2007

BDN On Habeas

Bangor Daily News editorializes in favor of habeas corpus. And give the editorial board credit for detailing the junior senator's embarrassing record on the issue:

The 2006 Military Commissions Act was intended to assure the end of habeas corpus for "enemy combatants," by setting up military commissions at Guanatanmo to hear detainees cases rather than using the federal court system. Before the final vote, Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Penn., tried to remove a section prohibiting any federal court from hearing habeas corpus appeals. But his amendment lost, 48 to 51. Maine’s Sen. Susan Collins voted no. Sen. Olympia Snowe, absent for a family funeral, did not vote. Sen. Collins voted for the unchanged bill, as did Sen. Specter, although he called the measure unconsitutional [sic]. Sen. Snowe again did not vote.

Sens. Specter and Pat Leahy, D-Vt., raised the issue again last month, introducing a bill to restore habeas corpus. The vote of 56 to 43 lacked the necessary 60 votes needed to block a filibuster. Sen. Collins voted against cutting off debate. Sen. Snowe, with five other Republicans, voted with the Democrats to allow a vote on the bill.
So let us ask again:

What does Sen. Collins understand about human freedom and dignity that she thinks the Founders overlooked?

As we've said in the past, this issue isn't about conservatives versus liberals. It's about conservatives and liberals versus reactionaries.

It's about the rule of law versus creeping lawlessness.

UPDATE: BDN rightly focuses in on the contrast between Sen. Collins' votes and the actions of Sen. Snowe (R-ME) and Sen. Specter (R-PA).

But it might also have been worth noting (space permitting) that Rep. Allen voted against the Military Commissions Act and, unlike Collins, supports the Specter amendment.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Knowing The Shot

Bill Nemitz explores the Collins camp's nasty, disingenuous attack on Rep. Allen for votes he missed while attending a funeral here.

He makes a point that's obvious but worth underscoring:

Before you publicly hammer someone with the question, "Where were you?" you'd best find out the answer in advance.
Or, as Ricky Roma put it in Glengarry Glen Ross:
Never open your mouth until you know what the shot is.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Change of Address

News reader users take note: Our feed has moved to

http://feeds.feedburner.com/collins_watch

The old address automatically forwards posts to the new one. So feed subscribers shouldn't have to take any action. At least that's what we've been assured.

But if you run into trouble, try redirecting your reader to the above url.

(If this all sounds like gobbledygook, ignore it. And don't feel bad: This stuff is over our heads too.)

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Sullivan on Torture

Andrew Sullivan makes a prediction:

The way in which conservative lawyers, and conservative intellectuals, and conservative journalists aided and abetted these war crimes [relating to America's ban on torture]...the way in which Republicans and Democrats in the Congress pathetically refused to stand up to these violations of American honor and decency in any serious way...these will go down in history as some of the most shameful decisions these people ever made.
(Sen. Collins voted in favor of the Military Commissions Act. Rep. Allen didn't.)

In The Papers

Didn't realize that MaineToday.com had a political blog. But it does. And Susan Cover has picked up the Allen funeral story.

(Unfortunately, she doesn't dig any deeper.)

In other news, Sen. Collins is calling the President's veto of S-CHIP "a tremendous mistake."

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

They Release Statements

According to a press release from Valerie Martin, Rep. Allen's campaign manager:

Two of Monday's missed votes named post offices in other states. The third honored a National Guard unit from another state.
If this is true (and as far as I know, the Maine GOP hasn't produced any information to the contrary) then the Collins campaign is indeed guilty of launching a cheap shot attack on Allen.

Look: It's important for legislators to show up. But the job of a representative is to advance the interests of his or her constituents--not to a pursue perfect attendance record as an end in itself.

If Sen. Collins thinks attendance matters above all else she should say that. If she thinks this election should turn on the fate of legislation naming out-of-state post offices, she ought to explain why.

Apology?

As the incisive Senate Guru notes, Maine GOP chair Mark Ellis' press release update--the one acknowledging that Rep. Allen was at a family funeral in Bangor during three House votes Ellis accused him of skipping--contains nothing resembling an apology.

(How did I miss that?)

So important questions remain: Does Ellis believe Allen abrogated his obligation to his constituents by attending the funeral? Does Sen. Collins--whose campaign took the lead in disseminating the original attack--think an apology is in order?

Or does she concur with Ellis that Allen's absence--for a family funeral--indicates that the six-term Democrat "seems to have lost interest in showing up to work."

And does anyone in the Maine press corp find any of this salient enough to be worth a couple hundred words?

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Oops

From the Collins campaign, via its internet guru Lance Dutson, we get wind of this Maine GOP press release:

Congressman Tom Allen missed each of the three votes the House of Representatives held yesterday, bringing his missed votes total to 132...

Maine Republican Party Chairman Mark Ellis said, "Congressman Allen really seems to have lost interest in showing up to work. At the very least, he should tell his constituents why he is choosing to leave them unrepresented in Congress less than a year after he was reelected. For these and the many other days that Tom has skipped votes, Mainers deserve to know the answer to the question: Where was Tom?"
Later amended as follows:
“It has come to our attention that Congressman Tom Allen was in Bangor on Monday attending the funeral of a family member. Without question, the most difficult times in our lives are those in which we grieve for the loss of family or friends. Our thoughts are with Congressman Allen and his family during this difficult time,” said Maine Republican Party Chairman Mark Ellis.
Look, I'm agnostic on the Collins camp's "missed votes" allegation, at least until I see some hard data: If Allen missed close-call votes on important issues, then he certainly deserves to be taken to task.

On the other hand, if what we're talking about is mostly near-unanimous resolutions, procedural votes and the occasional post office naming, then it's a silly, distracting charge.

So it's time for Collins and her Maine GOP allies to show their cards here, and tell us why these particular votes were so important.

Otherwise, they wind up looking petty or callous. Or--as they do in this case--both.

UPDATE: I seem to have picked nearly the same headline as Kos, who I think may have beaten me to the punch by an hour or two.

That'll teach me not to leave the house...

The Freedom Agenda

The more I think about Sen. Collins' habeas votes, the more convinced I become that they'll come back to bite her during the campaign. And not just because the more recent vote exposed a widening rift between the junior senator and Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME).

Allow me to explain.

For those who are a little fuzzy on their high school civics, habeas corpus is the right to challenge one's imprisonment in a court of law.

Or to put it even more plainly: When the government knocks on your door and takes you away, habeas is what entitles you to tell a judge "Wait a second. They got the wrong guy."

So we're talking about something pretty basic here. And while I'm no expert, it seems safe to call habeas a foundational principle of Western law and culture--the kind of basic minimum standard that helps us tell the difference between societies that respect individual autonomy and those that don't.

So Collins' votes against habeas are a stark reminder of which side she's been on these last few years in the battle between the rule of law and creeping autocracy.

They're a clear example--in the way the Iraq war, with its various nuances and complexities, isn't--that when it's mattered, Sen. Collins has helped advance the slow march toward lawlessness and national disrepute rather than confronting it.

And there's nothing "moderate" or "centrist" about that.

But more than that: There's nothing "conservative" about stripping people of core legal rights, or about refusing an opportunity to undo the wrong one year later.

The truth is, stripping habeas was a radical, reactionary step, undertaken by people who think that the Magna Carta and the US Constitution got things fundamentally wrong.

And in standing with the Bushes and Cheneys and Gonzaleses of the world--rather than the Arlen Specters and Colin Powells and Olympia Snowes--Sen. Collins enabled, supported and participated in their radical agenda.

That she did this without (at least to my knowledge) so much as issuing an explanatory press release underscores the junior senator's stunning disrespect for basic human freedoms.

It's a remarkable turn of events, and one I wish the Maine press would explore--or at least touch on. In any case, it's a topic I'll be returning to as the campaign unfolds.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Layers of Meaning?

Given the opportunity to host a Washington D.C. film screening (at the invitation of The Week magazine), Sen. Collins--together with her friend Rep. Jane Harman--selected THELMA AND LOUISE.

An interesting choice, to be sure. Make of it what you will.

Friday, September 28, 2007

They Write Letters

As the kids say, read the whole thing:

The Washington Post story published in the Sept. 20 Portland Press Herald erroneously reported that Sen. Susan Collins voted against cloture on a bill sponsored by Republican Sen. Arlen Specter allowing terrorism detainees the right of habeas corpus.

Unlike Sen. Olympia Snowe, Sen. Collins shamefully voted in effect to deny detainees this historic right, which dates to 1215 and the Magna Carta. She ignored the plain language of the Constitution, which allows suspension of this right only "when in cases of rebellion or invasion the public safety may require it."

Sen. Patrick Leahy made clear the bill's significance by saying: "Casting aside the time-honored protection of habeas corpus makes us more vulnerable as a nation because it leads us away from our core American values and calls into question our historic role as a defender of human rights around the world."

Characterizing the fight against terrorism as a "war," with its implications for presidential powers not otherwise allowed by the Constitution, is at the root of this country's current constitutional crisis.

A "war" against ill-defined enemies and of indefinite length provides a pretext for un-American abuses of the kind regularly employed by dictators.

The "war" argument was central to the opposition to this bill, as enunciated by Sen. Jeff Sessions, Republican of Alabama: "This is purely a matter of congressional policy and national policy on how we want to conduct warfare now and in the future."

I urge Mainers not to re-elect Sen. Collins, who blatantly rejects our basic constitutional values.

Meredith N. Springer

Peaks Island

Thursday, September 27, 2007

The Unnameable

For the second time in recent months, the word "Iraq" does not appear in Sen. Collins' eNewsletter.

But readers do learn that:

Senator Susan Collins recently attended the Lewiston MAINEiacs home opener at the Colisée in Lewiston.
and that:
Senator Collins recently visited the Gulf of Maine Research Institute in Portland where she met with approximately 50 elementary and middle school students from Nobleboro Central School, Hope Elementary School, and Oxford Hill Christian Academy.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Exclusive: Tom Allen Interview


We spend nearly all our time here at Collins Watch focusing on Maine's junior senator. And for good reason--it's what we're all about.

But with the 2008 race coming into focus, we thought it would be worth shifting our attention, at least briefly, to her Democratic opponent, Congressman Tom Allen.

So we reached out to his campaign, which graciously set up an interview. On Monday, we sat down with Allen, who has represented Maine's first district since 1996.

Our discussion lasted about an hour, covering topics ranging from Iraq to Sen. Collins' perfect voting record to Moveon.org.

Here's what we learned.

On Iraq: Allen told us without hesitation that, "setting a deadline is the best way" to move forward.

When asked about Sen. Collins' continued unwillingness to support a withdrawal timetable--in the context of her repeated calls for a change in mission--he said, "the bottom line is, Susan wants to maintain an open-ended commitment in Iraq. And that's the President's policy."

"Changing the mission," he argued, "is just relabelling the mission."

He rejected, specifically, Collins' contention that redefining our military aim in Iraq as "counter-terrorism" would result in a changed role for US forces ("fighting terrorism is what we're doing now") or that it would necessarily cause a troop draw down.

And he characterized the limited troop reduction that Collins seems to be contemplating as a potential "worst of both worlds" scenario because the US presence would remain large enough to be seen by Iraqis as an occupying force, and yet the American military would have a tougher time policing Baghdad because of reduced troop levels.

He also dismissed the charge that he and other Democrats are arguing for an "abrupt" or "precipitous" withdrawal, countering that "nobody who understands the mechanics of pulling troops out safely" is calling for a lightning-fast process, and that a safe, orderly redeployment of troops and equipment would take about a year.

Allen conceded that the next step for withdrawal timeline supporters isn't clear. He speculated that the House might take up the Webb amendment, but acknowledged that the failure of Levin-Reed in the Senate means that progress toward a revamped Iraq policy has stalled for now.

On fighting for Maine's interests: "Susan Collins has supported the entire Bush economic agenda--she's voted for every tax cut. The result is less money in Maine for healthcare, environmental protection, headstart" and other programs. "When you give billions to the wealthiest, there's a lot less for domestic priorities."

Predicting that Democrats would hold or expand their congressional majorities, he argued that seniority--one of the reasons Collins has used to justify breaking her promise to serve only two terms--is less helpful for the state than having a senator who is a member of the majority party.

On the subject of Collins' pledge, Allen called Collins' newfound appreciation for the importance of seniority politically expedient but "not credible" given her decade of experience on Capitol Hill as a staffer for former Senator William Cohen.

On habeas corpus: "It is fundamental to a free society that if the government locks you up, you have the right to an attorney and a right to a hearing before a judicial officer. [Collins] disagrees...Civil rights issues are a major point of difference between us."

On Supreme Court vacancies: "I want very intelligent people, but also wise men and women--people who've had the right kind of life experience." He also cautioned against nominees "married to a particular ideology" and those with an expansive view of executive branch power.

On Justice Alito: "Alito had a record as an ideological partisan that stretched back for years. So it's no surprise that he's been a key vote in enhancing executive power" or that he's voted to uphold a ban on late term abortions and to make it harder to challenge workplace discrimination.

On Mukasey: Allen said he'd like to hear more about the President's nominee for Attorney General, and that his record "bears some close examination" given this story in yesterday's New York Times.

On Sen. Collins' perfect voting record: "Not important. I think there are seven people in the House this year who haven't missed a vote. If you have the kind of record I do, which is a 98 percent voting record over a decade, what's important is what you vote for, what you fight for, not the difference between 98[%] and 100[%]."

"If she missed the vote on the 2003 tax cut," Allen quipped,"the country would have been better off."

Moveon.org and the Petraeus Ad: "I don't think it was a wise ad," Allen told us. "I disagree with it." He later called it "over the top."

At the same time, he maintained that, "the people who attack Moveon.org attack it because of its politics" and that "there's nothing wrong with essentially small dollar contributions from large numbers of American citizens."

Allen distanced himself from the Senate resolution condemning the organization, asserting, "you won't see me criticizing a conservative group that raises money from conservative American citizens."

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Watch This Space

As Atrios and others have noted, Sen. Collins said this in March:

"My vote against this rapid withdrawal does not mean that I support an open-ended commitment of U.S. troops to Iraq," Collins said in a statement issued after the vote.

If Bush's strategy in Iraq does not show "significant results" by fall, "then Congress should consider all options including a redefinition of our mission and a gradual but significant withdrawal of our troops next year."
Well, it's now officially fall.

And Sen. Collins is still rejecting all legislative attempts to mandate the very "gradual but significant withdrawal" she promised she would consider.

Surprised? I'll confess that I am, at least a bit: A few months back, I was almost sure that Collins would have pivoted on Iraq by now.

Meanwhile, we're gearing up for a busy Monday here at Collins Watch: We hope to serve up some exciting content--and maybe even break a little news--in the next day or two.

So tune in early and often.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Still No Hits

According to Google, the word Bush is still nowhere to be found on SusanCollins.com.

Susan's Selective Memory

Over at Susan's blog the junior senator recaps what she calls a "busy week in Washington." And indeed it was.

And yet somehow, her 545 word post manages to skip both the failure of the Webb amendment and her unconscionable--and much-discussed--vote against restoring habeas corpus.

I wonder why she'd skip right over the week's two most important events...

Thursday, September 20, 2007

WaPo: Collins Visibly Angry

Don't miss this juicy anecdote in today's Washington Post (via Turn Maine Blue) about the disconnect between Maine's senators.

Sen. Collins was apparently none too happy about having to stand alone in opposition to reinstalling the right of habeas corpus.

Snowe apparently did not inform her leadership of the switch, according to aides and senators familiar with the decision. Therefore, Collins never got the message, leaving her all alone.

Collins, who is facing a potentially tough reelection battle next fall against Rep. Tom Allen (D-Maine), an antiwar liberal [sic], was visibly angry, according to eyewitnesses in the chamber's press gallery. She paced around the floor, confronting several members of the leadership.
So: Is this how she decides how to vote?

I mean, we're talking about a core modern legal principle for crying out loud, and Sen. Collins is worried about blending in with the crowd?