Posts Tagged ‘Senate’

Real GOP Mavericks: Murkowski, Collins

Saturday, July 29th, 2017

By Bob Gaydos

Sens. Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski at work, governing.

Sens. Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski at work, governing.

If you’re looking for a maverick, you don’t go to Arizona where they brag about the “dry heat” and almost everybody is a retired something or other from somewhere else looking to be left alone while they head for the air-conditioning. The state motto in Latin is Ditat Deus, which means “God enriches.” Whether one is a believer or not, that certainly doesn’t suggest an attitude of going out and stirring the pot to make things happen. It’s more like, “Well, OK, let’s chill and if it doesn’t work out, it’ll work out.”

No, if you’re looking for a maverick, by which I mean in this case, an independent-minded person, you go where it’s cold a lot of the time and winters are rough and people don’t have time for pettiness and pettifoggery. “Get on with it! What are you talking about? That’s nonsense; don’t waste my time.”

You go to Maine or, better yet, Alaska. If you’re lucky, both.

The Maine state motto is, “I direct,” or “I lead.” Alaska’s is “North to the Future.”

Action words. Follow me. I know the way.

On the floor of the U.S. Senate early Friday morning, John McCain, the Arizona senator whose reputation as a maverick disappeared in a puff of “Holy smoke!” at Liberty University when he was running for president in 2008, staged a dramatic moment in which he cast a “no” vote — complete with a theatrical thumb-down — on the Republicans’ last-gasp effort at repealing Obamacare.

Boom! The bill was dead. Gasps from Republicans. Applause from Democrats and millions of Americans. The maverick — fresh from surgery for brain cancer at a Mayo Clinic Hospital in Phoenix — was back.

Not really.

Yes, McCain’s was the deciding 51st “no” vote, which killed the bill. But without the preceding “no” votes from Republican senators from Maine and Alaska, McCain’s would have been meaningless and those two senators had been in the forefront of opposing their party’s hypocritical efforts at “health care reform” from the outset.

In the matter of saving Americans from the cruel reality of the disastrous GOP effort to kill Obamacare (as opposed to passing its own health care measure), the real mavericks were Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.

Both women endured insults and threats from male (Republican) colleagues in Congress — and the president — as they stood firmly opposed throughout the sham process conducted by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. No last-minute theatrics for them. They let McConnell and the president know where they stood from the outset — on the side of truth and reasonableness, no petty politics.

For doing their job, voting their consciences and what was best for their constituents, rather than toeing the strict party line, Murkowski and Collins were referred to as “witches” and “bitches” online by the Trump troll patrol. Rep. Blake Farenthold, another sad excuse for a legislator from Texas, said that he would challenge them to a duel if they were men. He’d never survive.

The narcissist-in-chief tweeted his displeasure with Murkowski and suggested, in true Kremlin style, that her state might face retribution by the administration. In fact, Senate Democrats said they would ask for an investigation into calls from Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to Murkowski and fellow Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan, in which Zinke threatened projects important to their state if Murkowski persisted in voting no. That was merely more thuggery from an administration that has no respect for laws or rules of conduct, much less respect for differing opinions.

Collins displayed no patience for McConnell’s nonsense from the beginning of the latest Republican effort to squash Obamacare, pointing to the lack of information and debate on the measure, as well as its negative impact on millions of Americans — the things most other Republican senators were fully aware of but chose to neglect in voting yes.

Collins and Murkowski, of course, were not among the dozen white male Republican senators appointed by McConnell to try to figure out how to repeal and replace Obamacare. No women were on that special panel.

This is today’s Republican Party. A misogynist, or worse, in the Oval Office and a bunch of dumb white men trying to tell women to mind their place.

McConnell, of course, famously shut off the microphone of Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren during a Senate debate, only to listen as she persisted. Clearly, he has similar feelings about Republican women, senators or not.

But Murkowski, who vowed to defend funding for Planned Parenthood (eliminated in the GOP health plan), was elected as a write-in candidate over a Tea Party opponent who beat her in a GOP primary. She doesn’t scare off.

After the big GOP health care flop, she said, “My vote yesterday was from my heart for the people that I represent. And I’m going to continue working hard for Alaskans and just focus on that. I have to focus on my job. I have to focus on what I came here to do.” She had earlier said that it would be nice if some “governing” actually went on in Washington, rather than constant campaigning.

Collins was heard on an open microphone saying Trump’s handling of the budget was “completely irresponsible.” She opposed the Republican health process from the beginning, including the vote to even allow debate. McCain described that tactic as irresponsible, before voting for it. Then he actually voted for a GOP health plan offered later. Collins, Murkowski and several other Republicans voted “no,” (as did all Democrats on every vote). McCain saved his “maverick” vote for the end.

Some called it statesmanship. It was political theater — the deus ex machina coming in way too late. We’re glad you did it, senator, make no mistake, but where have you been all this time, through all this arrant nonsense from McConnell and Trump?

It brings to mind another “mavericky” theatrical moment in the McCain biography, one that also involved an outspoken woman politician from Alaska. Sarah Palin, senator. Remember her? What were you thinking? Were you that desperate for votes in 2008 that you had to sell out to the loony fringe now running your party? Don’t bother answering. Thanks for this decision; it’s a big one. But it doesn’t come close to making up for that earlier one.

No, if you’re looking for statesmanship and courage in this story, look to Senators Collins and Murkowski. If the Republican Party hopes to reclaim its soul, it needs more mavericks like them.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

A 70-year-Old Rookie in the White House

Monday, June 12th, 2017

By Bob Gaydos

Trump says it ... Ryan excuses it: "He's new."

Trump says it … Ryan excuses it: “He’s new.”

“Give the kid a break; he’s new on the job.”

Of all the excuses Republicans have come up with for the words and actions of Donald Trump, leave it to feckless Paul Ryan to come up with the dumbest. And Ryan is two heartbeats from the presidency.

Ryan’s excuse (I paraphrased for emphasis) came, of course in response to questions about his reaction to the narcissist-in-chief’s (NIC’s) pressuring former FBI DIrector James Comey to drop an investigation of Michael Flynn, whom Trump had just fired as his national security adviser. “He’s a good guy,” Comey said the NIC told him in a private meeting. Testifying to a Senate committee, Comey said he agreed with Trump. But he also knew Flynn had neglected to mention several meetings with Russian officials while he was part of the Trump transition team. So, no, Comey, said, he could not “let it go.”

More to the point, Comey told the senators he was uncomfortable that the NIC had even asked the then-FBI director — traditionally an independent official — to drop an investigation and, furthermore, asked for a pledge of “loyalty” from him. All in private conversations. Inappropriate in spades. Possibly illegal.

Rookie mistake, as far as Ryan is concerned. To quote him precisely: “He’s new to government, and so he probably wasn’t steeped in the long-running protocols that establish the relationships between DOJ, FBI and White Houses. He’s just new to this.”

Is that an appropriate excuse for the president of the United States? Ryan was asked. Perhaps not, he acknowledged, adding, “It’s just my observation.”

FIne. Here’s my observation, Mr. Speaker of the House. I like to know that the person widely regarded as leader of the free world has at least some working familiarity with the rules of the road — the protocols of the office, diplomacy, a sense of history, the basic do’s and don’ts of the job. Also, respect for the law of the land. Stuff like that.

“Let’s Make a Deal’’ was a TV show, not a meeting of NATO countries. “The Godfather” was a novel, then a movie in which Marlon Brando asked a bunch of people for “loyalty,” but they weren’t in an Oval Office darkened by closed blue curtains, which, on other occasions, might afford a wary FBI director a place to try to hide from the NIC.

There are certain times when “he’s new on the job” doesn’t cut it. I recently underwent surgery for fractures of my left knee and right wrist. Same accident. The surgeons said they were going to perform the operations simultaneously, since they were on opposite sides of the body and they wouldn’t get in each other’s way. Only one anesthesia that way, they said.

Sounds good, I said. You guys ever do this before? I asked. Sure, the knee guy reassured me. Is he any good? I asked the nurses. He operates on the Mets’ pitchers, they said. OK, I said. No rookie. Knee and wrist are mending well.

A little more personal history from the other side of the issue. As a new court reporter early in my career I made what could have been a serious rookie mistake. After talking to the local district attorney about his most recent grand jury, I wrote an article about the indictments, including someone who was named in a sealed indictment. Sealed indictments are not made public so the people don’t know they have been charged with a crime. (For example, some reports have suggested the NIC himself has been named in a sealed indictment.)

“I think you may have broken the law,” the DA told me after he read the article in the paper. He was smiling, but I was mortified. My inexperience might have tipped someone off, blown the DA’s case … put me before a grand jury?

I was lucky. The DA had his guy and was understanding. He knew I was “new on the job” and had no malicious intent. Still, I was embarrassed and apologized profusely and paid close attention to the rules of the road from thereon. I did not deny or excuse what I had done. I learned a lesson.

This was in a small town in upstate New York, not in the White House. I was maybe 25 years old, fresh out of college, six months of infantry training and a year as a police reporter. Trump is 70 years old and, to hear him tell it, a successful man of the world. The artist of the deal. A brand name. President of the @#$%# United States!

His response to the Comey meetings? He went to Twitter to accuse Comey simultaneously of being a liar and leaking classified information, meaning the conversations. Apparently he’s not sure which desperate excuse would work. Mea culpa? Trump doesn’t speak Latin. Learn from a mistake? Trump was relentless in stalking Comey for ‘loyalty.”

That whole learning the ropes argument is, of course, just a way for Republicans to avoid admitting the man in the Oval Office is not only frighteningly unqualified for the job, but doesn’t seem to regard learning about it as especially important. And consequences? Not his concern.

The rookie president went to Europe to meet with our NATO allies. He figured he could shame them into spending more for defense. After much debate, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and other advisers managed to get a sentence included in Trump’s speech reaffirming the United States’ commitment to mutual defense — the core function of NATO. Trump left it out. On purpose. Out of spite.

Several days later, at a press conference with the president of Romania, which can’t afford to spend any more money on its military, the NIC said the U.S., of course, remains committed to NATO. But he had another surprise for Tillerson.

Just 90 minutes earlier, Tillerson had said the United States was willing to help negotiate in the escalating conflict in the Middle East with Saudi Arabia, Egypt and several other Arab nations closing borders and setting up blockades on Qatar, accusing their neighbor of supporting terrorist groups. Tensions in the region had become heightened after Trump, who is fond of dealing with the Saudis, also blamed Qatar for supporting terrorists, thereby taking sides, encouraging the Saudis to get more aggressive and, by the way, ignoring the presence of 11,000 American troops in Qatar, which is a major launch site for U.S. military activity in the region.

Tillerson’s comments about negotiating thus were seen as an effort to cool things off. Cover up for the rookie. Yet less than two hours later, Trump was again pointing the finger at Qatar.

I happen to think the Middle East is no place for a president to be learning the ropes. Yes, all new presidents have to learn things, especially in the area of diplomacy where blurting out whatever is on your mind is generally not a good idea. But, again, presidents’ words and actions have wide-reaching consequences. At the very least, someone who was serious about learning the job would seek — and take — advice from those with more experience. It’s a sign of maturity. He would admit misstatements. It’s a sign of humility.

If you’re a reporter, you don’t publish the names of people named in sealed indictments. If you’re a president, you don’t repeatedly ask the FBI director to “let go” of an investigation and ask for a pledge of loyalty and you don’t keep throwing your secretary of state under the bus. At some point, if you’re serious about the job, and especially if you’re a rookie, you study and read and discuss and learn. Maybe you don’t play golf every weekend — unless you’re really more interested in just playing at being the president, rather than doing the work.

Kind of like Paul Ryan playing at being speaker of the House.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

 

And So it Went: Two dysfunctional political families trying to survive

Sunday, August 7th, 2016

 

Hillary and Donald ... heads of the families

    Hillary and Donald
  … heads of the families

By Bob Gaydos

The week began with Donald Trump making inane remarks about always wanting a Purple Heart and arguing with a crying baby. It ended with the Olympics opening to a samba beat in corruption-plagued Brazil. But something else has been rattling around in my brain and I finally figured it out.

For the past decade, the two subjects I have written about more than any others are politics and addiction. While each has its own niche and relevance in the world, I always knew there would come a time when the two merged seamlessly into one. I just didn’t think it would take the most tawdry, depressing, insulting, downright embarrassing presidential campaign in my lifetime for it to happen.

But here we are, my fellow Americans, three months away from having to choose between two of the most disliked candidates in our nation’s history to be the most powerful person on the planet. In 12-step program language: We have become powerless over our political process and our lives are becoming increasingly unmanageable.

At first, I thought this was just a problem for Republicans, many of whom are faced with trying to figure out how to detach from their utterly unmanageable presidential candidate, Donald Trump. Al-Anon, a 12-step program for families and friends of alcoholics, talks of trying to detach from the alcoholic or addict with love. Love the addict, hate the disease, is the rationale.

However, the group’s members also acknowledge that sometimes it is necessary — for self-preservation — to “detach with an ax.” A few members of the Republican family have done so with Trump and more are in the process of getting up the courage to do so.

More on this in a bit.

What finally alerted me to the dual dysfunction of our presidential campaign — my moment of political clarity, if you will — was the FBI deciding not to recommend criminal charges against Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential candidate, for her use of a private e-mail server while she was secretary of state.

But they cleared her, you say.  Yes, they did. No crime was committed, they say. But they also said she and her staff were incredibly careless and she showed poor judgment in creating this system, which could have compromised classified information. The FBI and State Department both said it did not, but what struck me was Clinton’s need to ignore established — secure — protocol and install a system over which she, at least theoretically, had total control.

This, I recalled, was not new behavior for Clinton. Her political campaigns — for the U.S. Senate in New York and for president — are famous for her efforts to strictly control and limit all interactions with the news media as well as to carefully manage her public appearances. Not too much mingling.

It’s almost as if, when she feels she is in total control of the situation, she feels comfortable, but if she is not, well, who knows what might happen? There is no trust

Why would any intelligent, capable, successful woman have trust issues?

How about a husband who was a serial philanderer? A successful, charming husband who cheated and lied and paid no serious consequences for his actions, no less. This could prompt some controlling, seemingly arrogant, behavior in anyone who opted not to detach, with love or an ax.

Hillary stayed with Bill and today she is the center of attention. He remains visible and is still respected by many, but obviously is no longer a threat to her peace of mind. He may simply have aged out of the erratic behavior. That happens a lot in dysfunctional families. The “non-problem” spouse no longer has to devote all her energies to making things appear to be normal at home; she really is running things.

So when the “kids” in the Democratic family – the Bernie Sanders progressives — started demanding that things have to change at home, she was able to at least listen. Whether she is able, or willing, to make those changes, however, remains to be seen.

It also remains to be seen if she can let down those protective walls and show voters a more human side. To continue the arms-length behavior only breeds distrust among people she’s also asking to like her well enough to give her their vote. It’s foolishly self-defeating behavior for a politician.

If Hillary can recognize that shortcoming and if she can grasp that, as head of the family now, she can let up on some of those reins of control and trust others to help her make decisions, and if she can learn to trust herself in non-choreographed situations, life in the Democratic household will be much more serene. Her life will be more serene.

If she cannot, Bill will still be around, but those Sanders kids are likely to leave home, even if it’s a beautiful, white mansion in Washington, D.C.

For Republicans, the situation is starkly different. Daddy Donald has gone off the rails. He listens to no one, says whatever comes into his mind, insults his allies and attacks anyone who isn’t nice (deferential?) to him. His addiction is the constant need for praise. Where is the next applause line coming from? His erratic behavior is not confined to the home either, but rather is out there for the whole world to see. His buddies in the bar love his one-liners. They think he’s a genius. “Hey, Donnie, you oughta go into politics.”

For the family back at home, it is beyond embarrassing.

As  Al-Anon teaches, those who stay with the addicted individual too long can wind up even sicker than the addict. Today’s Republican Party offers ample evidence of that as party leaders on the one hand condemn whatever bigoted, misogynistic, hateful, utterly stupid thing Trump has said that day and on the other hand continue to support him as head of the family. Shhh, don’t make daddy mad.

Rehab is out of the question. Trump listens to no one. The only healthy way out is to remove the addict from the house, or, as appears to be the situation here, to leave him and set up a new house.

That takes courage and, so far, few Republican leaders — indeed few of the rank-and-file — have shown any willingness to do this. Denial is a killer. Inevitably, the detachment must happen if the family is to survive. How much more suffering the Republican family must endure is up to them.

… And so it went.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

16 years … Still Waiting for Hillary

Monday, April 18th, 2016

By Bob Gaydos

Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton

Back in 2000, I was writing editorials for The Times Herald-Record, a daily newspaper based in Middletown, N.Y., Daniel Patrick Moynihan was getting ready to retire from an illustrious career in the United States Senate and Hillary Clinton was packing her bags to move out of the White House.

My activity was part of a well-established routine. Moynihan’s was the logical culmination of a long career in public service to the state of New York. Clinton’s, in a way, was both. Her bag-packing was part of a well-established career plan and the culmination of eight adventurous  years as First Lady. And, the story goes, it had nothing to do with any questionable behavior on her husband’s part.

It turned out the Clintons, in looking for a place to live when Bill’s final term as president ended, had found a cozy, little 11-room château in Westchester County, in New York. It was perfect for the ex-prez and the soon-to-be-junior senator from the state of New York. That was the next step in the well-established plan. Fulfilling the residency requirement.

The fact that neither Clinton had ever lived in New York was never a major problem in Hillary’s senate campaign since New Yorkers had famously welcomed that carpetbagger Bobby Kennedy when he decided he would like to be United States senator from New York before running for president. Now, I saw and heard Bobby Kennedy and trust me, Hillary Clinton never was and never will be a Bobby Kennedy. Nevertheless, the Clintons were warmly welcomed in New York and Hillary was accepted as a candidate for the United States Senate. Her credentials as soon-to-be-former First Lady were enough.

Funny, in many ways that hasn’t changed in 16 years. Her campaign for president today relies to a large extent on a hurry-up resume that sounds a whole lot better than it really is. It’s not for nothing that the words “entitled” and “inevitability” are frequently attached to Clinton’s name.

In any event, there I was, pounding out editorials on a daily basis, there went Pat, as he was called, holding farewell audiences with newspaper editorial boards, and here came Hillary. Except that she never came. If you think elephants have long memories, beware of editorial writers who feel snubbed.

As part of her introduction to New York, Clinton conducted what was called a listening tour. She would travel across the state, she said, to find out what was important to people in the state she knew next-to-nothing about, but which she longed to represent in the United States Senate.

A routine element of most political campaigns is meeting with editorial boards of newspapers, to hear what’s on their minds, to get out the candidate’s message and maybe get an endorsement. In 2000, I had numerous telephone conversations with a woman in Clinton’s campaign who politely assured me, every single time, that “Mrs. Clinton definitely wants to meet with The Record. We’re just figuring out the scheduling.” Or words to that effect.

They’re apparently still figuring it out.

In a major break from the paper’s liberal tradition, The Record wound up endorsing Clinton’s Republican opponent, Rick Lazio, whom she soundly trounced in the election. (Lazio replaced Rudy Giuliani, who withdrew because of marital problems and prostate cancer.) The editorial board’s thinking was that: 1.) Lazio took the time show up; 2.) he answered all our questions apparently as honestly as possible and; 3.) as a member of Congress already, he knew he state’s issues and was capable of handling the job.

Then there was 4.) If Hillary was too important to meet with The Record, how could we be sure she would have the best interests of the residents of the Hudson Valley and Catskills in her consciousness. After all, we were the largest circulation newspaper in the region.

I can already hear the cries of “sour grapes” and that’s OK, because this is not about 2000. It’s about 2016 and the still overwhelming impression in much of the news media that Hillary Clinton regards having to answer questions and explain herself as a major insult, never mind inconvenience. You can be sure her meeting with our editorial board, had it occurred, would have been respectful, but not fawning. Indeed, if her crack staff was as good as advertised in doing its homework, I would not be surprised if they discovered a piece in the New York Post in 1990, in which a former gubernatorial candidate, Pierre Rinfret, called us the “most rude, obnoxious” group he had ever encountered. Or words to that effect.

That’s because Rinfret had no idea what he was talking about and was constantly asked to explain or clarify his remarks.

Hillary Clinton, in my experience, does not like being asked to explain herself. She appears to want to be accepted as is simply because she is. Has she changed sides on an issue? Don’t ask.

A major talking point among her supporters in this presidential campaign is that she knows how to get things done. (The implication being that Bernie Sanders, with a lifetime in government and public service, does not.)

Well, as First Lady, she totally blew Bill’s attempt at universal health care. She supported his tough anti-crime bill, which she now take pains to point out was signed by him, not her. Welfare reform? Same thing. As secretary of state, she helped Barack Obama make Libya a mess, but again, he made the decisions, she reminds us, not she. That Pacific trade bill, Madame Secretary? Barack’s baby.

Which brings me back to New York state, where I still live and write, though not on a daily basis any more. Hillary Clinton served one six-year-term as senator and two years of a second term. Then she quit to run for president because, well, there was a timetable to honor. (Obama messed it up. Now Bernie’s trying to do the same.) But, unless I was in a blackout for eight years, I cannot think of a single major “thing” she “got done” for New Yorkers in that time.

And to this date, I’m not aware that she has ever set foot in Middletown.

 rjgaydos@gmail.com

 

R.I.P., F.R.L.

Thursday, June 6th, 2013

By Jeffrey Page

The late Sen. Frank Lautenberg

The late Sen. Frank Lautenberg

Frank Lautenberg could be devastating if he thought he or his friends were being unfairly attacked. So in 2004, with John Kerry’s war record in Vietnam being torn apart by the Bush forces, it was the distinguished gentleman from New Jersey who was recognized on the floor of the Senate for remarks.

In that short talk, Lautenberg gave as good as Kerry was getting, and once again proved that if Democrats were smart, they’d search for some more pugnacious candidates like himself and stop being so damned polite.

Lautenberg referred to “chicken hawks,” a species he described as having an appetite for war but only if they could find someone else to fight it for them. Lautenberg was never one to speak quickly and then break for lunch. So he went on to identify Dick Cheney as “the lead chicken hawk.”

He continued: “We know who the chicken hawks are. They talk tough on national defense and military issues and cast aspersions on others, but when it was their turn to serve, they were AWOL from courage.” His outrage extended to the shameless GOP trashing of Senator Max Cleland of Georgia, a triple amputee from Vietnam, as somehow not strong enough on defense matters.

Calling the vice president of the United States a coward was a variation on the old Democrats-are-soft-on-defense drivel the Republicans had been spewing for years. Now it was in their faces. And they yelped that it was unfair.  

Lautenberg had the standing to make the case. He had spent four years in the Army during World War II while Cheney spent about the same amount of time getting his five deferments during Vietnam and while George W. Bush was finding himself a cozy place in the Texas Air National Guard.

President Obama would be in a much stronger position these days if he had a few more Lautenbergs to call on when his party, his supporters and himself are slimed by the Right. When Congressional Neanderthals play dirty, Democrats often seem quick to shrug their shoulders, look sincere, and announce to anyone who’s listening that they’re ready to work with the other side. They’ve yet to figure out that the other side has no interest whatever in working with them. Democrats ought to listen to tapes of Lautenberg when he was angry and stop being so characteristically courteous.

It isn’t just Lautenberg’s partisan mouth that will be missed. He was a passionate national politician.

–He led the struggle for a national drinking age of 21. For years, New Jersey teenagers drove across the state line to New York to drink. The Jersey drinking age was 21; New York’s was 18. There were comparable situations elsewhere. Using the possible loss of federal highway funds as a club, Lautenberg persuaded all the states to adopt that higher age.

–Lautenberg was an advocate of a national blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 percent. If your BAC is higher, the law presumes you’re drunk and incapable of driving safely. Again, no state could be forced to adopt the lower BAC. But neither are the feds required to write highway-aid checks to states that refuse to comply. Today, 50 states subscribe to the 0.08 level.

–He was a strong supporter of the Secaucus railroad station, a $500 million project in the Jersey Meadows that was designed to allow NJ Transit rail commuters to switch trains and ride into midtown Manhattan or to Newark instead of traveling to Hoboken and the PATH trains.

–Just two things about Secaucus. There was an early proposal to spend $200,000 on a statue of Lautenberg for the station, an idea thankfully laid to rest by then-Governor Jim McGreevey, a fellow Democrat. I checked the clips to be certain and could find no story suggesting that Lautenberg opposed the idea of a statue of himself. I think he kind of liked the idea. Anyway, he got the next best thing; the station’s official name is the Frank R. Lautenberg Secaucus Rail Station, but most people just call it “the transfer,” and wonder why it’s such a confusing place.

–It was Lautenberg who led the fight to outlaw smoking on most domestic passenger flights. Remember what it was like when smoke drifted from the smoking section to the nonsmoking section? Remember the headaches? Remember thinking how much you’d pay for a breath of fresh air? Remember the smell of your clothes?

He had other issues: One of his environmental measures requires manufacturers to inform local officials of the chemicals they have on hand and use. He supported gun control. His intervention sped up federal assistance to survivors of Hurricane Sandy.

Lautenberg was one of the wealthiest members of Congress but he fought the people’s fights. The party and the people need a few more like him.

Snowe Takes a Hike

Tuesday, March 6th, 2012

Olympia Snowe

By Jean Webster
Senator Olympia Snowe has been all over the news since her surprising announcement that she’s through dealing with what she called “an atmosphere of polarization and ‘my way or the highway’ ideologies” in Congress.

Since then, the question has arisen about whether Maine without Olympia Snowe would be like Massachusetts without Ted Kennedy, both of whom served in the Senate for decades, he for 47 years, she for a total of 34 years in the House and Senate (plus five years in the Maine Legislature before that).

My immediate response is “no.”

I respect Snowe as a person who often did good work, without keeping her name in the public eye. But as a lifelong Democrat, I never voted for her.

Of course there were years when I wasn’t in Kennedy’s corner either. These were the times when his personal behavior more than embarrassed his family and his country, culminating in the death of Mary Jo Kopechne. It was the low point in his life and ruined any chance to be president, though over time he worked his way back from spoiled rich guy to patriarch of his family and beloved senator who was admired by several of his ideological opposites in the Senate.

But, besides that personal conduct, there were vast differences between Ted Kennedy and Olympia Snowe. He was a public person, frequently seen in the news, not only in his home state but in the national and international media and had a far more public persona than Snowe. Despite their differing personalities, Snowe and Kennedy worked closely together, particularly on defense issues.

Snowe has served on a number of important committees in Congress – Small Business, Intelligence, Commerce, Science and Transportation – but she’s seldom seen in the news. It seems she prefers to remain in the background.

Between Snowe and Susan Collins – Maine’s other Republican Senator – Collins wins hands down in getting her face and name on television and radio, and in print. Probably three to five times more often. If Snowe has a statement to make, she does it quietly and without fanfare. Perhaps she’s more like Maine’s first woman senator, Margaret Chase Smith, another Republican, who worked quietly yet who was one of the first members of the Senate to stand up to condemn the tactics of Joseph McCarthy in 1950.

What will Snowe be remembered for? It will be her centrist views and her attempts to get beyond partisan politics. Recently, both she and Collins were called the most moderate Republicans in Congress. In 2010, they were two of the three Republicans to support President Obama’s financial reform bill.

Although Maine voted wholeheartedly for Barak Obama, people here are very loyal to their two Republican senators. I think it’s the Town Meeting mentality; every March, Mainers convene in town halls to vote for those who will run their local governments. In a mostly rural state, these are their neighbors, their friends. In Maine, we vote for the person, not the party.

In 2008, I made phone calls for Tom Allen, the Democrat running against Susan Collins. Remember, I was calling only Democrats. But many I spoke with said yes on Obama, no on Allen. When I asked why, they would invariably cite a personal story about how “Susan” helped them. No problem about crossing party lines. I understand that Susan’s not Olympia, but to me it’s an attitude here in this state – about people and about how to vote.

Perhaps it’s this attitude of fairness that Olympia Snowe misses in the Senate of the 21st century.

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