May 29, 2011

Jonathan Riskind: Senators pressured by left, right

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That may seem like a pretty loyal voting record, until it's put into context.

Fifty-six senators have voted with their party 95 percent of the time or more so far this year. Just 16 have voted with their party 89 percent of the time or less, and just 10 senators have voted with their party 86 percent of the time or less.

Over time, Snowe and Collins have voted "their consciences and moderate positions although in the zero-sum world of today's Washington, partisans on the far left and the far right demand ideological purity," said Christian Potholm, a professor of government at Bowdoin College.

"Maine voters, since 1948 and even before, have almost always prized and rewarded independence and moderation."

Asked whether Snowe and Collins are about as moderate as it gets in the Senate these days, Potholm responded, "Yes, unfortunately. The answers and solutions to America's many national problems lie in the middle of the political spectrum."

Gone from the Senate over the past few years are moderates from both parties, Republicans such as Gordon Smith of Oregon and George Voinovich of Ohio and Democrats such as Evan Bayh of Indiana and Republican-turned-Democrat Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania.

One reason for increasing party unity is increasing numbers of procedural motions, which tend to draw more partisan votes even from moderates.

"Many of these votes now are not just the vote on final passage, but lots of procedural votes that come with that, and that tends to buck up party support scores," said Anthony J. Corrado, a professor of government at Colby College.

"In terms of Snowe and Collins, it is clearly the case that they remain firmly amongst the more moderate senators."

MaineToday Media Washington Bureau Chief Jonathan Riskind can be contacted at 791-6280 or at:


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