After months of consideration, US Senator Susan Collins of Maine announced Friday morning that she would not run for governor, a move with dramatic implications for national politics.
It was the only logical decision for her to make. Running for governor had too many question marks: about whether she could win if she stayed a Republican, what she could accomplish in a polarized Augusta, and what kind of hit her popularity would take as things got messy.
If Collins had become governor, she would have been one of the few moderates to leave a very politically polarized Senate. Democrats love her, even though she votes overwhelmingly with the Republican Party.
There was some debate as to whether she could have appointed her own successor. If she could have, it’s logical to assume Maine would still have a moderate voice in the Senate, even if a Collins replacement wouldn’t have had her seniority.
The bigger question for Collins was what kind of governor she would have been. If she was simply going for a career capstone, well, being the first female governor in state history would have furthered her legacy.
But as she has flirted with the decision, she said it was never about a career capstone. The decision, she said, was about where she could do the most good for the people of Maine. Could she have more of an effect in the Senate, protecting Maine’s military installations and broadly working for health care and the environment, or could she do more as governor, working to bring in specific jobs to specific places and improving education?
One could discuss that question, in theory, for hours with Collins. But it was a false equivalency.
Collins knows she has an effect in the Senate. She could not assume she could get things done as governor on the scale she might have hoped for.
Politically, Maine is not the place it was even 20 years ago. Like the nation at large, it has become increasingly polarized. This is particularly true in the Legislature, where Democrats control the House and Republicans control the Senate. But it’s more complicated than party breakdown: There are factions upon factions within each party, and there’s more incentive these days for these factions not to work together for the common good.
Indeed, this was one reason why Maine was one of just a handful of states that had a government shutdown this summer.
Collins probably would have wanted to change the culture in Augusta. She would not have been the bomb thrower that incumbent Republican Governor Paul LePage has been during his two terms. But she doesn’t control the Republican Party in Maine, and she doesn’t control the Democrats. That could have brought big problems.
Had Collins run, the savviest way to do it would have been to run as an independent and to pledge to serve just one term. Running as an independent would have avoided a Republican primary that recent polls showed Collins would lose. (Her campaign said it had a poll showing she would win but didn’t release numbers.)
Collins is so popular overall that she would probably win as an independent candidate. And running with the pledge to serve just one term would make it easier for Democrats and Republicans to support her.
Yet even with all that, there was the question about what she could actually accomplish as a lame duck governor on day one.
Staying in the Senate was the only thing that made sense.James Pindell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.