Monday, June 27, 2011

About That Event

Wondering whether Sen. Collins spoke about gay marriage at the EqualityMaine event? So were we.

Here's the take of Betsy Smith, the group's executive director, on what was said:

Members of EqualityMaine's staff did ask the Senator about marriage.

My understanding is that she said she felt it was a state not federal issue, although she pointed out that she had voted against an amendment to the US Constitution banning marriage equality.

She also noted that like many Americans she is on a journey on the issue and noted that public opinion was changing rapidly on the issue and that she found that to be a very positive thing.

Advocacy Done Right

I was amused--and may even have let out a chuckle--when I read that EqualityMaine was honoring Sen. Collins for what the group called her "unique leadership" in the drive to repeal "don't ask, don't tell."

Don't get me wrong: The junior senator played a key role in reviving the repeal effort when it stalled during the Senate's lame duck session late last year. (And we applauded her for it at the time.)

But it's also true that Collins' intransigence and transparent partisanship were a big part of why repeal ran into trouble to begin with. Remember, Collins voted to filibuster the military authorization bill that contained repeal--a bill she professed to support--on the grounds that some of her Republican colleagues had issues with it.

If that's not putting politics ahead of principle, I don't know what is.

Collins also insisted that repeal be put off until wealthy Americans were awarded giant tax cuts, effectively demanding a mulitbillion dollar ransom in exchange for supporting equal treatment under the law.

"Unique" leadership indeed.

Still, given the historic nature of the policy shift, Collins' meandering path from repeal obstacle to repeal supporter is basically a footnote. It's easy to understand why EqualityMaine would want to celebrate a home state senator's critical role in the realization of a cherished goal.

But the full story, it turns out, is more complicated than that--and more interesting: Because unlike almost every other advocacy organization in the country, EqualityMaine actually has a track record of accountability and truth-telling when it comes to Maine's senators.

Here's Executive Director Betsy Smith responding to votes by Snowe and Collins to filibuster repeal:

EqualityMaine is extremely disappointed in U.S. Senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, who today voted lockstep with their Republican colleagues Mitch McConnell and John McCain in a display of pandering to the right to avoid repeal of the military's discriminatory "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. (Emphasis added.)
Here she is blasting both senators for putting tax cuts for the rich ahead of repeal:
It is particularly distressing to myself and our members across the state of Maine that both Senators Collins and Snowe have chosen a path of partisan rancor instead of reflecting Maine values of independent spirit for the common good...They have committed to voting for repeal of this grossly unfair policy in the past. It's time for them to live up to that commitment. (Emphasis added.)
And here she is calling out Collins for her record as a Bush enabler:
Senator Collins chose to vote with this anti-LGBT administration 77 percent of the time. She has also supported the confirmation of highly conservative court appointees, setting back progress on relationship recognition issues and endangering critical protections for our allies, for women and for choice.
In short, EqualityMaine has confronted Collins--repeatedly and forcefully.

And in the case of repeal, that approach got results.

The straight-talk strategy is a marked contrast to the approach adopted by groups like Human Rights Campaign and the Maine and national arms of League of Conservation Voters--which tend to coddle Collins, praising her effusively whenever possible, while overlooking bad acts in a seemingly desperate attempt to preserve access.

And against this backdrop of harsh criticism, the EqualityMaine event with Collins seems downright savvy--an attempt to demonstrate to Collins and other wavering pols that while egregious behavior will be called out, there is an upside to doing the right thing.

Meanwhile, if the junior senator strays again, she knows that she'll be facing persistent, pointed criticism from an entrenched local advocacy group that isn't afraid to mix it up.

Seems like a lot stronger motivator than vapid plaudits and unearned awards.