Politico carries this ominous headline: “Murkowski goes rogue.” Senator Lisa Murkowsi’s performance during the lame duck session gives serious cause for concern:
Lisa Murkowski isn’t gunning down caribou on national TV like that other famous Alaskan, but the Republican lawmaker is going rogue in the Senate just weeks after staging the most stunning back-from-the-dead political win of the 2010 cycle.
Murkowski is already showing a fierce independent streak, becoming the only Republican to cast votes on all four items on President Barack Obama’s wish list: a repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” a tax-cut compromise, the START deal and cloture for the DREAM Act.
Murkowski is getting praise from all the wrong people:
“She’s a person who makes up her own mind, does what she thinks is right and always keeps the concerns of her state at the forefront,” moderate Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) told POLITICO of Murkowski, adding that the Alaskan was an important ally in helping overturn DADT. …
Collins, who calls Murkowski one of her “favorite people,” is not alone in her praise. Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) emphasized Murkowski’s pragmatism as a venerable partner in attacking energy issues that typically draw partisan ire.
“She’s very interested in getting good results and not playing politics with issues,” Bingaman told POLITICO. “She and I have worked together well on the energy committee, and I think we have been able to operate that committee well on a bipartisan basis with her help.”
Murkowski is also developing a significant working relationship with Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), who was one of the top negotiators on the DREAM Act…
Murkowski’s recent record may translate into a future as a key player for Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.)….
Worst of all is this evaluation from a fellow Alaskan, Ivan Moore, who is a pollster and a newspaper columnist and, I assume, a liberal:
Ivan Moore…pointed to Murkowski’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” vote as a sign of a “new Lisa.” … I think she has conclusively detached herself from her former allegiance to the right and is charting a new course.”
Having barely dodged a bullet in November, Murkowski will be with us for six more years and owes little to the Republican Party, whose primary she lost. GIven that Alaska’s other Senator is Mark Begich, a Democrat, Alaska is now in somewhat the same position that the Dakotas were for a while–a conservative state, represented by liberals.
PAUL adds: The first few paragraphs of the Politico story overstate matters, as the back end of the story makes clear. Murkowski has never been a social conservative, so her vote in favor of DADT repeal probably was to be expected. Murkowski has always been among the 13 most moderate GOP Senators (more moderate, certainly, than Sens. Corker, Cochran, and Isakson), so her vote in favor of START comes as no surprise. And her vote in favor of the tax cut put her in the mainstream among GOP Senators, including conservatives.
Only Murkowski’s vote for cloture on the DREAM Act might be seen as evidence of her “going rogue.” But this too can be viewed mostly as a “social issue.” The real tests will come next year on budgetary issues (other than pork for Alaska, which she has and always will support) and environmental issues. The latter test is particularly important given her role as ranking member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
Murkowski may yet “go rogue.” It seems clear, as John notes above, that having won her historic write-in victory against a candidate supported (as he should have been once nominated) by the Republican establishment, Murkowski feels fully free to vote against her party when she disagrees with its position and when no other constraint on her conscience exists.
It remains to be seen how “liberal” Murkowski’s unconstrained conscience is. Possible constraints include the interests of groups that traditionally have been her allies, such as energy companies, and the fact that Alaska is still a conservative state. The latter reality didn’t constrain her during the lame duck session, but might do so in the future, especially in the second half of her term. I doubt that Murkowski wants to have another near-death electoral experience.
On the other hand, she wouldn’t be the first Senator to be seduced by the kind of flattery that appears in the Politico piece.
If there’s a lesson in all of this, it might be the need for groups like the Tea Party Express to vet insurgent candidates. Lisa Murkowski didn’t prevail over Joe Miller because Miller was too conservative; she prevailed because Miller was a flawed candidate (when Miller brought his lawsuit to contest the vote count, the judge who drew the case recused himself because he had a low personal regard for Miller, who had served as a magistrate in that court).
In 2010, vetting was not much of an option — conservative Republicans weren’t lining up to challenge Lisa Murkowski and Mike Castle. But given the success of Joe Miller and Christine O’Donnell in their primaries, conservative organizations will probably have options in 2012. In assessing the options, it would be wise not to overlook candidates’ flaws in the name of picking the very most conservative alternative.