Ethics Dunce: Sen. Olympia Snowe

To the left-biased media (in other words, almost all of it), a Republican who votes like a Democrat is an automatic hero, and can do no wrong. That is why, perhaps, Maine’s GOP Senator Olympia Snowe received nothing but accolades and sympathy when she suddenly decided not to run for re-election, citing the increased polarization in the Senate. Ignored and largely unmentioned in the national media is how this decision and her timing of it betrays her party, her staff, and Maine itself.

In announcing her decision, she said,

“As I have long said, what motivates me is producing results for those who have entrusted me to be their voice and their champion. I do find it frustrating, however, that an atmosphere of polarization and ‘my way or the highway’ ideologies has become pervasive in campaigns and in our governing institutions.”

Never mind, for the nonce, that for moderates to withdraw from polarized political bodies only makes them more polarized: Good plan, Olympia! Let’s concentrate on the first part of that selection. “What motivates me is producing results for those who have entrusted me to be their voice and their champion.”  Really, Senator? Then why in the world did you go out of your way to violate that trust, by doing the maximum damage possible to your party, your staff and your constituency in your manner of leaving?

It is reported that Snowe’s own staff didn’t know about her decision until hours before her announcement. Nice. In the middle of a terrible job market, she didn’t respect or trust her loyal staff enough to give them notice that they would be out of a job by the end of the year. Have you ever had an employer sandbag you like that? I have. Do you know what I call such employers? Guess.

That’s just the tip of the Senator’s irresponsible and disloyal iceberg. Snowe had stockpiled nearly $3.4 million in her campaign war chest as of Dec. 31 and led by 40 points in internal GOP polls. She won in 2006 with 74 percent of the vote, and her safe seat was part of her party’s calculations as it planned to re-take the Senate in 2012. It doesn’t matter that you might not want the GOP to get a Senate majority—it is Snowe’s duty to assist in that objective. If she can’t bring herself to stay for another six years—and after over three decades in Washington, I can’t blame her for that—it is at least her obligation not to sabotage the party that has supported her through the years more than she has supported it. She could have met that obligation by making this decision months ago, so that Republicans could recruit an electable replacement. By waiting until the last moment, she has thrown Maine Republicans and Democrats into panic mode, as her party didn’t know it needed a candidate and the Democrats didn’t know they needed one who actually might win. The only declared candidate in the GOP primary is Scott D’Amboise,  a health care technician and small-business owner who is affiliated with the tea party.He’s a weak candidate and Snowe knows it, yet she withdrew with a March 15 filing deadline for other, more qualifies candidates ridiculously close at hand.

So, in summary, Snowe’s irresponsible, last minute decision betrayed her staff, undermined her party. and increased the likelihood that the voters of her state would have less than the best available alternatives to represent them in the Senate. Her message?

“Thank you, citizens of Maine, for sending me to the Senate since 1978! Thank-you, Republican Party, for helping to re-elect me, and giving me your support! Thank-you, loyal staff members, for providing me with your hard work, dedication and loyalty!”

“And screw you all…I’m out of here!”

[ Thanks to Arthur in Maine for the inside dope on his home state’s politics. I sure wasn’t going to get this from CNN. ]

12 thoughts on “Ethics Dunce: Sen. Olympia Snowe

  1. Jack, is what you are saying here anything similar to what you would say about a similarly, repeatedly re-elected Senate or House member of either party who switches parties? (Sorry if I’m showing laziness; I am just curious, and assume I am unable to search your blog quickly enough. I hope our familiar and always clear Arthur in Maine will comment.)

    • Yes…I’ve written about this several times. Here was the most recent, from the handy Ethics Scoreboard archive:

      “Switching parties mid-term is the unmistakable act of an opportunist and a fraud, and Sen. Arlen Specter’s convenient transformation, just as polls showed him unlikely to prevail in the approaching Pennsylvania Republican Primary for renomination, is a classic. His party spent its funds to elect him, the voters who cast ballots for him were over-whelmingly Republican, and he solicited campaign funds from citizens and organization that thought they were giving to a Republican. If Specter really believes his party has changed so dramatically since his election in 2004 (it hasn’t) that he can’t fulfill his obligations to those who elected him and funded his campaign, his honorable course would be to change his affiliation and resign. This is how former Texas Senator Phil Gramm switched parties when he was a Congressman: he announced that he was becoming a Republican, resigned his seat, and then ran for it again under his new banner. (He won.) But despite what his self-serving announcement claimed, Specter didn’t switch out of principle. He chose the cynical route of selling his allegiance to the Senate Democrats, who are seeking a filibuster-proof majority (oddly, no politician ever switches “on principle” from a majority party to a minority one), in hopes of keeping his job. This, despite recently denying the possibility of such a maneuver because he said he believed it was important to have checks and balances on the majority party in the Senate. Specter has demonstrated that he can’t be trusted. The Democrats better watch their backs”. [05/04/2009]

      • Thanks. Sen. Specter was one who I must’ve been thinking of (how quickly I forget!). I had not previously known about Phil Gramm’s switch.

        But now, you’ve got me questioning my own ethics, in the event I ever registered with one party, but then (in any given election) “crossed over” to vote for another party’s candidate (even if I did not donate to any candidate’s campaign, or did not speak in favor of any candidate).

        • Proam, I’m not sure what you wanted me to add to Jack’s commentary; it strikes me as right on the money within the context of ethics. I suppose that if you’re asking me “would you feel the same way if it was a Democrat who pulled out like Snowe did,” my answer would be “damn right I would”. Maine has its own bizarro world of politics, and I suppose one of the advantages to living in such a small state is that most of the skullduggery is right out in the open if one is willing to find it (most of Maine’s news media isn’t). The scrambling going on here right now (in both major parties) to put forward viable candidates has elements of light opera to it, but it’s still an unreasonable and unnecessary burden placed on the the state and its political parties, thanks in no small part to Senator Snowe’s untimely decision.

          To your question: you should not question your own ethics. Your responsibility as a citizen exercising the vote is to cast that vote for the individual(s) you believe to be best qualified for the position. It is not unethical to be registered in one party, and vote for a candidate in another; in fact, provided that such a vote is cast in the best interest of the people, that is indeed the ethical thing to do.

  2. Hi Arthur, and thanks for commenting. There wasn’t anything specific that I wanted you to say or expected you to say. It was just my hope to see your comments here, since the matter of Sen. Snowe was a matter of primary concern to people in Maine. You and Jack are at the top of a very short list of people of integrity and credibility whose posts I read. If I were a voter in Maine, I would probably be more upset at Snowe’s late decision if I was a Republican than I would if I was a Democrat. Sometimes, “independent, and mildly misanthropic” is political hell. I appreciate your advice about my voting; this could be THE year (for crossing over) of my “hope for change.”

  3. there is no doubting it: this is a smartly written blog–but there are exceptions to everything, and this post is one of those. i think the good senator from Maine is being celebrated, first and foremost, because she tries to vote for her constituents and in accord with what she thinks best. it is not the responsibility of an elected official to look out for her party–even if it supports her, which if you read reports coming out, her colleagues in the senate didn’t talk to her last year after a couple votes.

    it IS a politician’s responsibility to support the people who vote for her. if this post took issue with her voting record and whether or not her votes helped her state, then I’d be on board. but you don’t do that. you chastise the woman for not being more partisan, which is why she is leaving. she’s had it with her party and with the dems. you write as if you know this person’s heart. as if you think her intention was to screw people. do you have proof for this assertion? Is it not possible that she just had enough? that she was trying to hold on, making a real attempt to stay, but just broke. That would not make her an ethics dunce, that would make her human.

    as for her staff, come on! we should all be so luck as to have 9 months to get a new job. Have you ever been laid off? It doesn’t seem like it to me from your analysis, here.

    as for the state of Maine and its potential lack of strong candidates at this late date, i would argue that there is never a shortage of candidates and the parties will find someone who works. they always do. though, i will admit that of the two parties, the GOP will be worse off.

    in the end, i think your harsh judgments are more political than they are ethical. just something to think about.

    • I don’t need to think about it much. You’re dead wrong, and your reasoning is specious. First of all, there is nothing political in this post whatsoever. Politically, Snowe is closer to my own political inclinations than 90% of her colleagues, though that had nothing to do with the post either.

      Just as an employee, even a disgruntled one, has an obligation to give reasonable notice and not walk out on an employer leaving everyone, colleagues included, in the lurch, a Senator has an obligation not to do unreasonable and unnecessary harm when she decides not to run. You say she has an obligation to her constituents—then she has an obligation not to minimize their chances of having a competent successor to vote for. But Snowe did.

      I don’t know what her intention was; I do know what she did; I know she didn’t have to do it, I know she was aware of the bind she placed her party in. She is accountable for being irresponsible. “It is not the responsibility of an elected official to look out for her party”, meanwhile, is flat out untrue. What do you think a political party is, anyway? But if that’s how Snowe behaved, no wonder they weren’t talking to her.

      As for her staff, you’re the one who sounds naive about job-hunting. 9 months is nothing, especially now. You don’t think she had an obligation to let her staff know earlier than a few hours before she made the official announcement? Ask them what they think.

      There is no way to spin her conduct as anything but selfish and irresponsible. And you don’t even do a persuasive job trying. It was all so unnecessary…just unthinking, careless, and reckless. Professionals can’t just quit when they’ve “had enough.” They prepare, they minimize harm; they are responsible, and they take care of the people who depend on them. Not Snowe.

      • to call a person’s reasoning specious demands proof. you do not provide any. you just repeat your opinions, and you are fine to have them. my point is that you should not clothe call your opinions “ethics”. that’s…well…that’s unethical

        and, my friend, i have been laid off. have you?

        • I don’t know what you mean by “proof.” Your arguments are irrelevant and off point, and you don’t deal with any facts. FACT: she left with only 15 days for a successor to enter the primary. FACT: she didn’t have to. FACT: A political party supports Senators in many ways, as in Committee assignments and campaign funds. FACT: She owes the party fair treatment. FACT: The Senate control is a key objective of her party in 2012. FACT: her manner of leaving undermines her party’s chances. FACT: she didn’t have to do it that way.

          FACT: you didn’t make an argument. You just said she was a good Senator (irrelevant), that she didn’t owe her party loyalty (false); that 9 months is plenty to find a job in a recession (Even if true, 12 months is better—or do I have to “prove” that for you, too?); and you attribute the post to “politics”, which is just a cheap shot to attribute bias to an argument you can’t refute.

          Not that it’s any of your business, but yes, I’ve been laid off/ fired/ RIFed more than once, and it took me between 7 and 14 months to find acceptable jobs. The more time you have to look, the better. As I said.

          • it’s not a fact that she has to be “fair” to her party. it is a FACT that you do not know why she has made the decision she has made. it also a FACT that the Tea Party in her state had tried to find another candidate but couldn’t. your concern arises from a concern for the GOP, it seems. you mentioned that this hurts the dems, but I don’t see that. AND you can’t know that. my point/my argument here is not so much about Snowe. it has to do with a blogger saying he is an ethicist and using the language of ethics when the concern does not seem neutral. my argument was with you and what I feel is a less than genuine concern with “right and wrong” and much more a concern for party.
            If I am wrong in how I read you, then I apologize. But I tend to get a little hot under the collar when I see people use the banner of ethics/logic/argument to scream opinions.
            Reading what you just wrote, I agree this is a FACT:
            she left with only 15 days for a successor to enter the primary.
            and this to a certain point: A political party supports Senators in many ways, as in Committee assignments and campaign funds.
            But the rest are baldly opinions. You are entitled to them, but don’t call them facts. THEY ARE NOT.

  4. it’s not a fact that she has to be “fair” to her party. it is a FACT that you do not know why she has made the decision she has made. it also a FACT that the Tea Party in her state had tried to find another candidate but couldn’t. your concern arises from a concern for the GOP, it seems.

    Circular Runner, in that I have something of a ringside seat to this, let me comment on your points.

    1) She doesn’t have to be “”fair” to her party?” I suppose we could stipulate that point, on the basis that no one has to be “fair” to anyone else. That doesn’t mean not doing so is wise, ethical, or smart politics.

    2) Although I suspect there may be a bit more than meets the eye, I’m willing to take Senator Snowe’s reasons for quitting on face value – that she was simply sick of it. That does NOT obviate her responsibilities to her party, her office and her constituents. Snowe had four options: A) announce her departure months earlier, giving both parties adequate time to prepare; B) resign effective immediately, giving the Governor the ability to announce a recess appointment and at least create a bit of visibility for a likely alternative (Maine has no shortage of highly visible Dems); C) go through the election cycle (which she would have won in a walk) and resign 6 months or a year into her next term (which from the standpoint of realpolitik would probably have been a better way to make her point anyway) or D) do what she did. The net effect of that has put both major parties into an expensive, chaotic scramble.

    3) You’re flat out wrong about the tea party aspect. There are two announced candidates with some measure of tea party support (Maine’s tea party groups are a fractious lot). IMO, both have revealed themselves to be grossly unqualified for the job. One of them recently withdrew from the Republican party to run as an independent. It will do him no good.

    • Thanks for supplying those details, Arthur. When I heard of Snowe’s announcement, my first reaction was (as with many in Republican circles), “Good riddance”. However, I didn’t look deep enough into the other facets. Those paint the story of a woman who, indeed, holds all in contempt except what benefits her. This, again, is no great revelation. The way that she casually PROVED it, however, is a little startling. These people don’t even bother to hide their Me Generation attitudes, anymore. What does that say about the culture of their profession?

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