Monday, March 31, 2008

Wants

Sen. Collins wants new tax incentives for energy-saving homeowners, even though she's never adequately explained how we can afford the current slate of President Bush's tax cuts for the mega-rich. (Which she supported.)

She says she wants to reduce dramatically our military presence in Iraq, even though she's opposed every attempt in the Senate to achieve such a reduction.

Look: I want to end global warming and usher in an era of sustainable living. But if I fly to Spain every weekend, drive a gas guzzler to work and protest a new wind farm because it may harm my sea view--at a certain point, you have to question the seriousness of my commitment.

When some refuses, year after year, to act on her professed desires, it's a signal. It doesn't mean the person is lying. But it does mean that these "wants" should be seen as something more akin to "aspirations" than concrete, binding pledges.

Of course, there's nothing wrong with aspirations. But a legislators power is the power to act: To hold hearings, to craft legislation, to vote.

So let's all try to filter out the lofty, gauzy rhetoric. Legislators need to be judged on the basis of what they do, and what they commit to doing.

Friday, March 28, 2008

More on Attendance

As Gerald notes notes, Jonathan Kaplan at PPH is also on the perfect attendance beat.

Why all the attention to this issue right now? Anyone? Good thing there isn't a war on.

To Kaplan's credit, he at least makes it clear that Allen has a stellar attendance record. And he finds space to lampoon Collins' kooky obsession with the issue:

Remember the student in high school who won an award at graduation because she never missed a day? That child has grown up, and her name is Sen. Susan Collins.
"Yes," he seems to be saying, "this is a profoundly stupid discussion, not worthy of adults." (And then the article goes on for another 977 words.)

I do have one quibble with Kaplan's formulation: In truth, a perfect attendance award seems like the stuff of a middle school graduation rather than a high school ceremony.

At least in my experience, by the time high school rolled around, principals and teachers were all too ready to concede that perfect attendance was less important than what you did in class; that the smartest kid in school wasn't necessarily the one who never missed a quiz.

And when it came to high school elections, bragging about an unbroken attendance streak would have been a surefire way to get laughed at--and not much of a strategy for winning votes. Even ninth graders know that never being absent isn't much of a leadership credential.

My hunch is that Mainers--with or without the help of the Maine media--will come to similar conclusions.

UPDATE: A request: Can reporters please stop referring to Collins' never-been-absent streak as her "voting record"? A voting record is a list of votes one has cast.

Maybe it's time to start to looking at a few of those votes?

The Peculiar Press

I don't understand why an article like this gets written: Without any fresh news peg, it resurrects a stale, feeble argument from the Collins camp about the tiny percentage of votes Rep. Allen has missed over the course of his eleven year career in the House.

Moreover, the reporter clearly knows it's a vapid attack line--the writer casts a Rutgers political scientist in the role of The Voice of Reason, allowing the professor ample opportunity to dismiss the charge as nonsense.

But then why write the article in the first place? Why indulge--and give voice to--such a silly argument when it hasn't been made publicly in a month?

Incidentally, if Sen. Collins thinks family commitments and public service are incompatible, she should say so. If she thinks missing a vote on a post office naming ought to be of more concern to Mainers than her enabling of the worst foreign policy disaster of our life times, she should explain why.

At the same time, she ought to explain how she squares this view with her continued support for a presidential candidate who's missed more than half the votes this congressional term.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

A Team Player

In the Morning Sentinel, Republican Mayor of Waterville Paul LePage makes the case for Sen. Collins' re-election, trotting out a number of specious claims that are nonetheless part of the conventional wisdom about the junior senator.

Or at least, they used to be:

For the past 12 years, Sen. Susan Collins has amassed a voting record second to none...

She is not timid in challenging her party leadership, while maintaining the single-minded purpose of prioritizing the needs of the people of the state of Maine. She remains reliably in the mainstream...

She will buck leadership when it comes to representing her constituents...
It's an awfully gauzy appraisal, striking for its vagueness: LePage references not a single vote in defense of his claims.

But for the benefit of readers new to the conversation, here's a sampling of the junior senator's stances, which put the lie to LePage's argument:

Collins voted yes on the Iraq war.

She supports an indefinite, taxpayer-funded occupation of that country.

She voted yes on all three of President Bush's irresponsible, budget-busting tax cuts.

She voted yes on Judge Samuel Alito's nomination to the Supreme Court.

She supports letting phone companies off the hook, retroactively, for illegal wiretapping.

She voted yes on the suspension of habeas corpus.

I could go on.

But in short, this is not the record of a someone "challenging her party leadership." And it's certainly not "mainstream" in the context of Maine values.

Rather, it's the record of a Bush enabler, a water carrier for Karl Rove and former Sen. Rick Santorum's definition of a quintessential Republican "team player."

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Even More Bowen

Gerald makes a nice catch: National Journal essentially confirms what we already suspected--that the Iraq Reconstruction IG's partisan political junket to Maine was orchestrated by Sen. Collins.

Five Years

If Sen. Collins is planning to commemorate the anniversary in any particular way, I'm not aware of it. (The most recent post on her blog is a meditation on the Can-Am dog sled race.)

Rep. Allen has reaction from Mainers here.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Bowen: Not Enough Oversight

Iraq Special Inspector Stuart Bowen didn't just discuss his Maine junket yesterday before Congress. He also admitted, after some prodding, that between 2003 and 2006, "There wasn't enough [Iraq] oversight in general in that period of time." [Correction: See below.]

Bowen was responding to a question from Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) about the paucity of hearings on Iraq contracting by the Governmental Affairs Committee--specifically, Sen. Collins' record of holding only a single hearing with a single witness during that timeframe.

In the video, Bowen first hems and haws. But then he goes out of his way to amend his hedged remarks, interrupting Lautenberg with the categorical statement above.

So here we have another close ally of Sen. Collins--a man who was willing to violate executive branch protocol to support her re-election--essentially admitting that Collins dropped the ball on Iraq oversight.

Collins can continue to make the case that she was just too busy to pursue the Iraq issue. She can continue to portray the interest in Iraq oversight by Lautenberg and others as partisan politics.

But those arguments are getting weaker by the day.

CORRECTION: Reader EO points out that I've mistaken former General Accountability Office head David Walker for Bowen. (I seem to have gotten my balding, middle aged white guys confused.)

It's notable that the leader of the independent, non-partisan GAO dismissed Collins' position on Iraq oversight during his testimony. But my main point--that there had been slippage in the Collins camp on the oversight question--was clearly mistaken.

Collins Watch regrets the error.

Bowen On The Hill

On January 3, we wondered aloud about the propriety of Iraq Special Inspector Stuart Bowen's junket through Maine with Sen. Collins.

And within a couple of weeks, the Washington Post took notice, characterizing an anonymous senior State Department official as "puzzled" by Bowen's willingness, as a executive branch employee, to intervene in a political campaign. The official added, "This is the kind of thing we're taught not to do."

Well, the issue has now reached the Senate: Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) asked Bowen about the trip yesterday at a hearing. You can watch it here.

And as the Portland Press Herald reveals, Bowen's answers seem to have been not completely in line with the facts.

More in a bit.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Really, People

This morning, the Blethen papers run an Allen-bashing missive from Kim Pettengill of Albion.

The chance that this is not former Secretary of Maine Republican Party Kim Pettengill--the one who was a 2006 Snowe for Senate County Chair--seems remote.

If the editors at these papers think astroturf is a problem--or even an issue--they sure have a funny way of showing it.

And consider: Virtually every pro-Collins letter to the editor published over the last several months in Maine papers has been written by someone connected to the leadership of the Maine Republican party.

Does this says anything about the depth of support for Sen. Collins?

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Sharp Contrasts

Kudos to Jonathan Kaplan for wading into the legislative muck and penning this report on Sen. Collins and Rep. Allen for the Blethen papers.

I've chided Kaplan from time to time. But this particular article represents a rare example--at least, thus far--of Maine campaign coverage relying on careful research rather than "he said/she said" stenography or spin.

The piece looks back at the congressional careers of the candidates, focusing on the nitty gritty. The verdict?

What the legislative records show is that both candidates have exhibited sharp differences in the policies they support and contrasting views of how government should work.
Again, that's the verdict. But the journalistic case for it is built at length, and it's well worth reading.

Fans of both Collins and Allen will find things in the article that speak to the strengths of each candidate.

But I think Kaplan is right to frame his report the way he does: These are two people with very different ideologies, different visions of the scope of the problems Congress faces, and contrasting views of how to solve those problems.

So the notion that personality and temperament are the only things at stake in this election is ludicrous.

If nothing else, I hope this article takes that argument off the table.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Brief Hiatus

Barring any stunning revelations, we'll be taking off the next four or five days. Of course, if history holds, news will break just when we're furthest from the computer.

But I hope not.

Have a great weekend.

Monday, March 3, 2008

KJ Does It Again

It's been more than two months since the Kennebec Journal published a pro-Collins letter with a glaringly-incomplete writer attribution.

So I guess we should have expected this letter from Penny Morrell in today's paper.

Is this the same Penny Morrell who's sat on the Maine Republican Platform Committee, the Kennebec County Republican Committee and served as chair of the Belgrade Republican Town Committee? You wouldn't know it from reading the letter.

Let me reiterate: There's nothing wrong with Maine Republican officials cooking up letters to the editor as a way to frame the election debate. And there's nothing wrong with Maine papers printing those letters.

But would it be so difficult for KJ editors to spend a couple of seconds on Google? Would it be such an imposition for them to let Mainers know when a letter has been penned by someone who's part of the state Republican party apparatus?