Monday, March 8, 2010

LCV Still Swooning For Collins

Remember when the national arm of the League of Conservation Voters shelved its own standards and, in a move that betrayed its membership, endorsed Sen. Collins?

Even though she had a far weaker record on environmental issues than her opponent? Even though local Maine LCV officials were lining up against her? And even though the organization was unable to articulate why its own environmental scorecard--"a nationally accepted yardstick"--should be ignored in her Senate race?

Good times.

Fifteen months later, LCV is out with its first new scorecard since the election. And in a Senate where 51 members scored a 100 rating, the junior senator clocks in with a disappointing 64.

So much for rewarding bad behavior.

But does LCV at least regret its decision, in light of a year's worth of new information? Is the organization ready to repent and change its ways?

Of course not.

Rather, LCV Deputy Legislative Director Sara Chieffo told us in a phone interview that she remains, "comfortable" with the Collins endorsement. She touted the junior senator's environmental record as compared to other Republicans. (Talk about grading on a curve!) And she said she was "encouraged" by Collins' "engagement" on environmental issues.

One of the things going on here, of course, is that LCV--a nominally "non-partisan" organization--practices affirmative action for Republicans. That makes it easier to solicit donations from independents and green conservatives, and (ironically) to frame the organization as indifferent to partisan politics.

But another thing that's at work here (and let's hope it's the main thing) is that LCV is trying to make nice to Collins in advance of the climate change legislation debate that's coming later this year. Or in 2011. Or sometime.

The background: Collins has put forward a "cap and dividend" proposal that some people of good will think isn't terrible on substance. So the hope is that she will negotiate in good faith to amend the Kerry-Lieberman-Graham proposal, perhaps incorporating some of her ideas. And that she'll then vote for cloture and final passage.

Of course, the question with Collins is whether and to what degree she's being disingenuous--whether she might just be looking to delay, dilute and/or kill progressive legislation without appearing to do so. Mainers, after all, have been taught for years by the local media to listen to her rhetoric and ignore her actions.

On the climate issue, there's already some reason to suspect Collins of bad faith: In 2008, just months before she faced Maine voters, she supported cloture to advance the Lieberman-McCain cap and trade bill, which had no real chance of passing. But after the election, Collins seemed to change her tune, saying, "It's a complicated issue to tackle at a time when the economy is weak."

In any event, we'll be watching. And we'll be among the first to congratulate LCV if their multi-year, standards-shredding effort to cultivate Collins pays off with a big environmental victory.

But I wouldn't bet on it.

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