Tuesday, May 19, 2015

What to Do When a Democrat Gets 81% of the Vote

George J. Mitchell. The Negotiator: Reflections on an American Life. New York: Simon & Schuster. 2015.

Mitchell represented Maine in the U.S. Senate. Maine has historically been a strong textile state, It has many cotton and woolen mills. As Maine is 90% forest land, it has a large timber industry.

Mitchell grew up in Maine, He attended Bowdoin College, graduating in 1959. He then served in the Army. He worked on a team interviewing people fleeing East Germany. He was to help determine who may be a spy, He found he was “hopelessly inexperienced.” He learned to think “long and hard about the people whose lives would be irrevocable changed by decisions, about my duties and responsibilities, and about my fallibility and weaknesses.” He would continues this way of thinking as a Senator and as a Federal Judge.

Mitchell attended Georgetown Law School. He worked as an insurance adjuster by day while going to law school at night.

Mitchell received a phone call from the Administrative Assistant to Maine Senator Edmund Muskie. He was told Muskie was looking for someone with a law degree who knew Maine. Mitchell was asked if he was interested in working for Muskie. Mitchell interviewed and has hired. He became the Executive Assistant to Muskie At Mitchell writes, “I had gotten a taste of politics, and I liked it.”

Mitchell left Muskie’s staff to practice law in Maine in 1965. In 1966, he was asked to run for Chairman of the Maine Democratic Party, He wa elected and served for two years When Muskie was nominated to run for Vice President, Mitchell was asked to be Muskie’s Deputy Campaign Manager.

Mitchell served on the committee that made the Democratic Party’s nominating process more democratic;. In 1972, Mitchell was one of three candidates for Democratic National Chair. He came in second.

Mitchell ran for Governor, He found it difficult running in a primary against a friend, District Attorney Joe Brennan. Mitchell won the primary. An independent candidate, James Longley, won the general election with Mitchell finishing second, three percentage points behind Longley.

Mitchell became U.S. Attorney. He then became a Federal Judge.

In 1980, Muskie resigned from the Senate to become Secretary of State Joe Brennan, who was then Governor, chose Mitchell for the Senate vacancy. Muskie had wanted former Governor Ken Curtis appointed. Curtis would have been a stronger candidate Yet Mitchell believes that Brennan saw something in Mitchell even when they were running against each other. Brennan asked Mitchell to vote his conscience and use his best judgement. Brennan never asked anyting else from Mitchell.

Mitchell’s first entry in the Senate involved sleeping on cots during a fillibuster.

Mitchell was elected to a full Senate term in 1982. He overcame a poll that had Republican U.S. Rep. David Emery ahead by 36 percentage points.

Mitchell realized a Senator had to do a lot of fundraising. Mitchell ran TV ads early in the campaign. This improved his fund raising. Mitchell was boosted by doing well in debates with Emery.

Emery’s campaign put out a publication claiming Mitchell had a 0% legislative vote on veterans issues. Mitchell was puzzled as he was on he Veterans Affairs Committee supporting veterans. It turned out the publication considered votes before Mitchell was even in the Senate, thus his zero rating. Emery did not correct this error Still, Mitchel won with 61% of the vote.

The Iran Contra secret trade of arms for hostages upset Mitchell and others.. He realized there had been massive false testimonies that exceeded anything he has seen before.

In 1984, Senate Majority Leader Robert Byrd appointed Mitchell to chair the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee. Mitchell chose Nancy Pelosi to lead the fund raising efforts. Pelosi was later elected to Congress and became Speaker.As Chairman, 11 new Democratic Senators were elected and Democrats became the majority in the Senate. Byrd named Mitchell to the honorary post of Deputy President Pro Tem of the Senate.

In 1988, a Democratic state legislator Jasper Wyman changed parties and became the Republican Senate nominee against Mitchell. Mitchell won with 81% of the vote, winning by the largest margin in a contested Senate election in Maine history.

Maine’s Republican Sen. William Cohen suggested he and Mitchell write a bipartisan book on the Iran Contra hearings. Mitchell agreed. They wrote the book “Men of Zeal”.

Senators Max Baucus and Bill Bradley urged Mitchell to ron for Majority Leader. Sen. John Glenn agreed to nominate Mitchell.

Mitchell was elected Majority Leader. He also decided he did not want to make the Senate his career and decided that would be his last term.

Mitchell met with Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole. Mitchell promised he would notify Dole of his intentions and to never be critical of Dole in public or in private. Mitchell stated he would be available to meet with Dole. They worked well together even while disagreeing on policies.

Mitchell fought for clean air legislation. Newly elected President George Bush reversed President Reagan’s opposition to clean air legislation. Environmentalists demanded a strong bill, yet there were only 45 votes for that bill. Some environmental groups claimed the strong bill had the support of 60 Senators including Sen. John Heinz. Mitchell went to Heinz who declared his opposition to the bill due to Pennsylvania’s coal industry. Mitchell realized the environmentalists thought they had 15 votes they did not have.

Sen Byrd supported an amendment that added $500 million in costs to the bill. President Bush stated he would veto the bill if it included the Byrd amendment. Senator Joe Biden delivered a speech warning of this.

A clean air bill passed over the objections of Senator Byrd/ Byrd hung the roll call of the vote on his door and for years afterwards reminded visiting Senators who voted in opposition to him of their vote. Mitchell was proud of his own work on the bill and in getting it into law.

Mitchell observed that Rep. Bud Shuster was a mastermind of getting earmarks for his district.

Mitchell observed when President Bush pledged there would be no “new taxes”. Mitchell knew Bush could not keep that promise.

Mitchell was surprised when key Republican Senators agreed taxes had to be raised, Republican Sen. DIck Barman told Mitchell that a tax increase would “just emerge”. Bush later agreed to what he called “tax revenue increases” which he tried to show what not what he meant when he made the pledge.

When Bill Clinton, Senator Mitchell introduced Clinton’s health care bill. Mitchell turned down an appointment to the Supreme Court in order to work on the health care bill. The bill ultimately did not pass.

Mitchell chose not to run for reelection. He then became a negotiator between conflicting violent parties in Northern Ireland He took a job for five months that lasted five years. The parties eventually wrote out agreements each could uphold.

Michael Eisner asked Mitchell to be President of Disney. Mitchell declined Mitchell later agreed to be on the Board of Directors. Mitchell notes Eisner was a good innovator and that Bob Iger brought much improved profits to Disney.

Mitchell undertook a study of performance enhancement drugs for the Major League Baseball Commissioner.

Mitchell was a negotiator between Israel and Hama. He noes the hostility and distrust runs deep and has existed for a long term. Internals divisions within both prevent each from reaching agreements Mitchell believes that a solution can be found, He believes both sides will someday tire over the violence.


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