Centralist and moderate — both words often used to describe Maine’s two Republican senators.

When we throw out words like centralist & moderate, conservative or liberal, we’re actually comparing the tendencies of one person (or group of people) to another person or group. If our senators are truly moderate, who are we comparing them to?

In the 111th Congress, Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe voted with their party about 58 percent of the time. During the 110th Congress, Collins voted with her party 67 percent of the time; the only senator who voted with their party less was Snowe.

President George.W. Bush had the lowest approval ratings of any president; Sen. Collins supported him, however, 82 percent of the time. Super-conservative former senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania once called Collins a “team player” for Senate conservatives.

This is a moderate? Hardly. There’s labels, and then there are facts.

The National Journal is helpful; it compiles voting records and publishes an annual list of the most conservative and liberal senators (nationaljournal.com/voteratings). Based on 2007 votes, Snowe and Collins are rated among the most liberal & least conservative of Republican senators.

Lists like these are fun and interesting. However, take a few minutes and list your top five issues or concerns and research how Snowe and Collins voted.

For me, the key issues include support for public education, reproductive rights and privacy for women, support for farmers and health care reform (with a public option). If you have similar concerns, Snowe and Collins are not with you.

Full disclosure: I campaigned for former Rep. Tom Allen in his bid to defeat Collins in 2008. In doing so, I spoke with hundreds of Mainers (mostly Democrats) on the phone. If someone indicated they would support Collins instead of Allen, we would ask them why.

Common responses were that she seems nice and is willing to be bipartisan. When asked what issues were most important to them, and then asked to review Sen. Collins’ voting history, the truth came out, and many realized she wasn’t the candidate for them. It was Collins’ reputation, not her voting history, which got her re-elected.

Now, one reason for Snowe’s moderate label is her willingness to thumb her nose at GOP leadership. Last week, columnist Paul Mills commented on the popularity of Snowe and Collins and credited for speaking in opposition to their party standard (including on health care reform.)

This is a perfect example of Maine’s senators lauded for opposing their party, yet accomplishing little.

Sen. Snowe has received much national hype as a member of the “Gang of Six” who worked on health care reform. Yes, she opposes how her party wants to pursue reform (i.e. they don’t). Her opposition does distance herself from her party, but this hardly makes her a champion for reform.

Collins can, then, ride the coattails of Snowe’s popularity; quietly accepting the label of “moderate” while supporting big business, big Pharma, giving tax breaks to the wealthy and voting for the likes of Justices Sam Alito and John Roberts for the Supreme Court.

Which is more important to Mainers? Having senators who consistently seek compromise or senators who take a stand? Passing bipartisan legislation generally accomplishes little. Each side can say they worked with the other, yet legislation gets watered down and fails to accomplish what it needs to do.

On a personal level, as a constituent, I have reached out to both senators and have had the pleasure to meet them both. I have found them to have endearing qualities, and I like them. Maine could do much worse, both have solid voting and attendance records. And I don’t think we should worry about a scandal coming from either of them.

When it comes to the issues, though, Sen. Snowe’s reputation as moderate is only accurate because her party has moved so far to the right and lost touch with working-class America. Sen. Collins’ image is a result of mainstream media needing to label all politicians.

Their voting records hardly support these labels bestowed upon them.

Will Fessenden is a past chair of the Androscoggin County Democratic
Committee, considers himself a “community/grassroots organizer” and
serves on several nonprofit boards and committees. He works in Auburn
and lives in Sabattus with his wife Jennifer and their two boys.
E-mail: [email protected]

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