04/09/2008 11:01 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Will So-Called "Free Trade" Cost Republicans A Maine Senate Seat?

If I was Susan Collins, I'd be a bit miffed at my sister Republican Senator from Maine, Olympia Snowe. Collins is up for re-election and, though the polling in the state is not showing her in grave danger in her race against Democrat Rep. Tom Allen, that race will become competitive -- and Snowe may have put Collins in a bind.

Maine is not a state that is going to be very friendly to so-called "free trade". We already saw in 2006 how trade played a role in putting the Congress back in the hands of the Democrats. And, yesterday, Snowe put out a statement condemning the so-called "free trade" deal with Colombia:

I will not support the FTA with Colombia due to ongoing concerns about Bogotá's failure to prosecute individuals, including some close to its government and military, who have murdered and otherwise oppressed union leaders in that country," Senator Snowe said. "Mere progress by the Colombian Government in reducing still unconscionable levels of violence against trade unionists is simply not enough. An FTA creates a privileged trade relationship between economies that function along the same basic lines, but that is not the situation with Colombia -- where violent suppression of labor rights, in addition to the human rights outrage it represents, also put U.S. workers and businesses at risk from unfair competition by Colombian producers who willfully make use of exploited workers."


Unlike the current unilateral preference program which must be periodically renewed by Congress, the duty reductions extended to Colombian products under the FTA would be permanent, thus abandoning the main U.S. leverage for motivating Colombia to end violence against union leaders. Moreover, the agreement's investment provisions -- which are not part of the existing preference program -- would make it easier for corporations to move their manufacturing operations to Colombia and out of countries, such as the United States, with greater labor rights protections.

Aside from the vote-counting problems the administration faces when one of its own members goes south on a deal that is probably dead-on-arrival, if you are Susan Collins you are probably pretty pissed. You have two options:

1. Find some way to oppose the deal, since it is quite likely to fail anyway in the House, and perhaps not even reach the Senate.

2. Support your president -- and have your challenger, the DCCC and 527s run a slew of ads against your support for a deal that is terrible for American workers and even worse of the Colombian union activists who end up dead.

Nice options.