WASHINGTON — It’s the season of comparisons on Capitol Hill when media organizations, polling firms and other groups crunch last year’s votes to assess who falls where on the political spectrum.
U.S. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine ranked as the most moderate Republican in the 2013 edition of National Journal’s annual survey of members based on how they voted on selected issues. The news organization analyzed 117 particular votes (eliminating most non-substantive issues) as part of its 33rd annual survey. Collins was also ranked as the most moderate Republican in 2012.
Another vote study by CQ Roll Call also ranked Collins as the most moderate Republican in the Senate based on the percent of times she voted the same way as the Obama administration’s clearly stated position on an issue.
In both surveys, Collins was immediately followed by Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski – with whom Collins often works – and Arizona Sen. John McCain. The most moderate senator overall, as calculated by the smallest margin between their liberal and conservative scores, was Democrat Kay Hagan of North Carolina.
Sen. Angus King of Maine, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, was also relatively close to the middle, ranking as the 43rd most liberal and 57th most conservative senator in the National Journal survey. But that means there were 11 Democrats whose voting records were more conservative than the Maine independent.
In case you’re wondering, the most extreme senators were Sen. James Risch, R-Idaho, on the far right and a three-way tie on the far left between Sens. Chuck Schumer of New York, Brian Schatz of Hawaii and Chris Murphy of Connecticut.
Maine’s two U.S. House members – Democratic Reps. Chellie Pingree of the 1st District and Mike Michaud of the 2nd District – were both seated on the left side of the chamber.
Pingree ranked as the 30th most liberal House member, meaning there were more than 400 other representatives to the right of her.
Michaud, who is running for governor this year, ranked as the 148th most liberal and 282nd most conservative House member.
Interestingly, Michaud shares the 148 slot with fellow Democratic Rep. Ann Kuster of New Hampshire and was just one spot ahead of the Granite State’s other representative, Democrat Carol Shea Porter. Total coincidence or a sign of regional political symmetry?
According to the National Journal, Maine’s U.S. House delegation ranked as the fourth most-liberal in the country behind our apparently similarly left-leaning cousins from top-ranked Vermont, Rhode Island and Massachusetts. (Connecticut was just below Maine while New Hampshire rounded out the Top 10).
Of course, there’s an important caveat here. It’s a lot easier to get a lopsided state average when a state’s House delegation only consists of two people (Maine, Rhode Island and New Hampshire) much less a single congressman (Vermont).
Massachusetts’ high liberal ranking – even with nine House members – probably won’t surprise anyone.
So where did Congress stand overall in the studies? On incredibly partisan ground, not surprisingly.
Roll Call found that members of the party in power in both chambers – Democrats in the Senate and Republicans in the House – voted unanimously more often in 2013 than in any other time during the decades-long survey.
National Journal’s headline pretty much summed up the year: “The Most Divided Congress Ever, At Least Until Next Year.”
COLLINS CHALLENGER FILES
Erick Bennett, a declared opponent of Collins in the Republican primary, officially filed his paperwork with the Federal Election Commission recently to run as a candidate.
Bennett is the founder of the Maine Equal Rights Center, a conservative group formed to oppose legalized same-sex marriage in the state. A self-described political consultant and strategist, Bennett has pledged to run on constitutional issues. But he has garnered more attention recently about how he says he was falsely convicted of domestic violence and how that experience could inform – indeed, even help – his political career.
The Portland resident will have to gather 2,000 petition signatures from registered voters to qualify for the ballot. He is not regarded as a primary threat to Collins, however.
Collins also faces a likely challenge in November from Democrat Shenna Bellows, the former executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine.
PUBLIC CAMPAIGN FINANCING
Pingree joined House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats in calling Wednesday for a public campaign financing system that they predicted would reduce the influence of special interests in congressional elections.
The group led by Rep. John Sarbanes, D-Md., unveiled legislation that would match donations of up to $150 to House candidates at a rate of 6-to-1 from revenues gleaned by closing “corporate tax loopholes.”
The bill, dubbed the “Government by the People Act,” would also offer additional money to candidates able to raise $50,000 in small-dollar donations during the final 60 days of a campaign and would make a person’s first $25 donation tax-deductible.
The legislation has more than 100 Democratic co-sponsors but is unlikely to pass the Republican-controlled House.
Speaking during a news conference at the Capitol, Pingree shared an anecdote from her first bid for Congress – an unsuccessful Senate run against incumbent Republican Susan Collins in 2002 – as a way to highlight the difference between Maine’s public financing system and congressional elections.
Pingree spent hours on the phone asking for donations from both acquaintances and strangers, which she said took time away from talking to voters. At the same time, her daughter, Hannah, was running for the Maine Legislature. But because Hannah Pingree’s campaign was financed through the Maine Clean Elections program, she was able to spend her time on the campaign trail talking to voters.
Hannah Pingree won her race; Chellie Pingree did not.
“The truth is it is hard to get here today without devoting much of your time to doing nothing but raising money,” Pingree said. “Whether it influences you or not, it takes up your time.”
Pingree’s husband, hedge fund manager and philanthropist S. Donald Sussman, is a major political donor who funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars into Democratic political action committees and super PACs last year. Sussman is also majority owner of MaineToday Media, which publishes the Portland Press Herald, the Kennebec Journal and the Morning Sentinel.
Asked about the issue afterward, Pingree said both she and Sussman would prefer to remove big-money from politics but that they operate within the existing system in order to help Democratic candidates compete.
Members of Maine’s congressional delegation offices saw a few significant staffing changes last week.
Pingree hired Brooke Barron, who currently serves as associate director of administration to Vice President Joe Biden, to handle agricultural issues in her Washington office. A Colby College graduate, Barron worked in the past as a special assistant to Kathleen Merrigan, the deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Barron replaces Claire Benjamin, who recently stepped down as Pingree’s agricultural policy adviser to head the agriculture organization Food Policy Action.
Meanwhile, Michaud spokesman Ed Gilman is leaving the congressman’s office to handle communications for Democrats on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
Kevin Miller can be contacted at 317-6256 or at: