M.D. Harmon: When Push Came to Shove, She Bailed


An acquaintance and I have had a recurring conversation over the years on the wisdom of conservatives’ support for Sen. Olympia Snowe.

We share the same basic worldview, so we both approached the question from the same general political and social positions.

But we differed on whether voting for Olympia was something conservatives should do. My position was that I valued the times she supported conservative economic goals, but her opposition to some solid fiscal policies and nearly every conservative social goal made it impossible to vote for her in good conscience. Thus, while I voted for her the first time she ran for the Senate, I have not repeated that mistake.

My friend, however, while he shares my concerns about her liberal social views (not “moderate,” please — what’s the “moderate” position on killing the unborn?), defended her on pragmatic grounds.

“She will vote for Republican control of the Senate,” he told me repeatedly, pointing out that vote by itself has many implications for federal judges, along with every other conservative measure those leaders will promote and bring to the floor for votes.

That makes her worth supporting no matter how she votes when those issues come up, he says.

I understood that view, but I just couldn’t accept it. No matter what I thought before I entered the voting booth, when I did get behind the curtain, I looked at her name on the ballot and my fingers froze around the pen — and I ended up leaving the space blank, election after election.

Snowe’s announcement that she would not be seeking re-election — after saying repeatedly that she would, raising tons of money for that purpose and freezing any serious GOP candidates out of the race until the absolute last minute — has now left other potential candidates (minus Scott D’Amboise, whose ability to compete with prominent Democrats for the office is in serious doubt) with only two weeks to gather 2,000 signatures to get on the primary ballot.

And my acquaintance has finally seen the light: I have his permission to quote an email he sent me Tuesday, in which he wrote, “Sen. Snowe is always referred to as a ‘moderate.’ I thought: Well, thank God she’s only moderately liberal! Seriously: The Maine G.O.P. has just over two weeks to find another candidate (though Mr. D’Amboise may be just what we need, the principle remains). So much for supporting all those old elephants (like me and my family) who supported her over the past three decades.”

“I just realized: If she had decided it was time to go, yet had even a smidgen of loyalty to her party, she could have run for re-election, served a year or so and then retired, allowing the Republican governor to appoint her successor. (It is surely what any Democrat would have done in the same position).”

He added, “I can hear you saying, ‘So … you’re surprised by any of this?’ No, in fact; not in the least. She was always consistent: consistently to the left of most of the GOP (even in Bill Cohen land), consistently out of step with most of the Republicans who occupied the White House in the past 30 years; etc., etc. — you know the story better than most of us!

“We can only hope that the Democrats stumble and perhaps think the wife of a multimillionaire will play well outside Greater Portland (on the other hand, Maine went for Kerry, didn’t it? And he married money.)”

I was glad the light finally dawned for him, and I’m glad there’s always room for late conversions.

My own view is that Snowe’s public defense of her decision, that life in Congress has gotten too partisan, contentious and rude, is risible on its face. That kitchens are hot places was well-known long before Harry Truman offered his famous advice about it.

The inadequacy of that explanation — she might as well have said she was leaving to “spend more time with her family” — has led to all sorts of speculation about potential skeletons in her family’s financial closet, which remain to be proved.

While we wait to see what boneyard disclosures might be pending, we’re now being inundated with columns, stories, emails, tweets and carrier pigeon messages about who will enter the race and who will not. As noted above, we only have a short time to wait before the issue is settled.

Plenty of people are covering all those bases, so there’s no need for me to add my own guesses here. There’s lots of stuff to read out there if that’s the kind of stuff you want to read.

Rather, let me just say that I do not believe that GOP control of the Senate next year rides on whether or not the party keeps this seat or loses it to the Democrats. (Or, conceivably, a well-funded independent … now who could that be?) Too many Democratic seats are up for grabs for this one to likely be decisive — although it could work out that way, I suppose.

What matters more to me is that those Republicans who say that the only issues that count are the ones denominated in dollars, and that everything else important to conservatives should be set aside in order to rein in our sky-high debt, need to start seeing that trust and support are two-way streets.

If you ever needed proof of that, look at my friend’s email again, and understand that his backing for Snowe over many years was repaid with her stunning repudiation of his commitment, and the support of every Mainer like him.

When push came to shove, in what is shaping up to be the most important election since the end of World War II, she bailed.

But she’s been bailing on conservatives for years, with her decisive vote as the sole Republican senator agreeing to bring Obamacare out of committee being only the most recent example.

Who will the GOP nominate to replace her? I have no idea. But the party should see that there might be other fingers than mine freezing on the pen this time around.

M.D. Harmon is a retired journalist and a freelance writer. He can be contacted at: mdharmoncol@yahoo.com.