BREWER — The sharpest exchange in Tuesday’s hour-long debate between Susan Collins and Tom Allen occurred while the Senate candidates discussed the credit crisis that has resulted in a $700 billion federal economic package aimed at stabilizing world financial markets.
Collins, the Republican incumbent, laid much of the blame with Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, the large quasi-public mortgage lenders that the federal government took control of last month to keep them afloat. She said both the Clinton and Bush administrations had warned Congress that the companies’ lending practices needed to be more tightly controlled.
Democrats, she said, resisted the idea.
“The Democrats in Congress said no,” Collins said. “I think that is the root of this problem.”
There are many culprits, she added: greedy traders on Wall Street, inadequate regulation, and unscrupulous mortgage lenders among them.
“The list goes on and on but at the heart, it is Freddie and Fannie,” Collins said.
Allen made it clear he disagreed with Collins. He said Democrats in the U.S. House supported reforms proposed in 2005.
“That is just not true,” Allen said. “The heart of the problem was the subprime mortgage business itself.”
Another significant problem was the lack of support from the Bush administration, according to Allen.
“The White House didn’t want more regulation. They wanted less regulation,” he said. “They were hoping that Fannie and Freddie would ultimately be privatized. Just think of where that would have taken us.”
More than 200 people attended the debate, which was held at Jeff’s Catering and sponsored by Bangor Region Chamber of Commerce.
On other debate topics, Allen and Collins seemed to share similar perspectives.
Federal research and development funding for UMaine’s Advanced Engineered Wood Composites Center and for biomedical research institutions such as The Jackson Laboratory can help lead to private, spin-off companies that help keep Maine’s college graduates from moving out of state, they each said.
They each expressed support for increased access to health care and for development of an east-west highway through northern Maine.
They also said they supported increasing truck weight limits on federal highways to improve safety on Maine’s secondary roads and reduce fuel costs for local trucking companies.
Collins frequently cited her record, or support of certain projects. She said she has successfully advocated for more federal funding for disease research and housing assistance. She cited the Cianbro Eastern Manufacturing Facility in Brewer and the Northern Border Regional Commission as examples of how communities or even states can benefit by working together.
Allen expressed support for these efforts but said more substantial support for them could be achieved by doing away with Bush’s economic policies, which he said Collins has supported. Because of Bush and Collins, the economy and federal support for such programs have suffered, he said.
“We have to change the direction of the country,” Allen said. “When you get the economics wrong on the big picture, you’re not going to be able to accomplish much at the local level.”
In opening and closing remarks, Collins played to the hometown crowd by emphasizing her ties to the Bangor area and to northern Maine. She said she grew up in Caribou, has lived in Bangor for 14 years, and has strong ties to the local small-business community. She said she is part of a bipartisan group of 20 senators working on a comprehensive energy bill.
“You deserve a senator who knows how to get things done,” Collins said. “One of the reasons I’ve been effective is because I always work across party lines. I’ve been rated as one of the least-partisan members of the Senate.”
Collins said she has split with her party on votes one-third of the time, while Allen has voted with Democrats 98 percent of the time.
In his personal remarks, Allen said he, too, is familiar with northern Maine, having spent considerable time there both as a private citizen and as the state’s 1st District representative.
He said the Senate race is not about the candidates but is about making the world a better place.
“It’s about you, your children and your grandchildren and what kind of life you want for them in the decades to come,” Allen said.
He also said he has ties to Collins’ family. His opponent’s mother, Pat Collins, served on a committee with his father, he said, and Susan Collins’ parents stayed at Allen’s family home when they were visiting the Portland area from Caribou.
“We had a family thing going on there,” he said, eliciting laughter as Collins nodded and grinned.
After the debate, Allen campaign spokeswoman Carol Andrews said in a prepared statement that Allen clearly contrasted his record and positions with those of Collins, who she said has supported policies that have been harmful to northern Maine.
“Collins voted for all the Bush economic policies that have favored the superwealthy over the middle class, big multi-national corporations instead of Maine’s small businesses, and bad trade deals that have cost Maine more than 18,000 jobs in recent years,” Andrews wrote in the release.
“Tom Allen has a record of standing up for Maine’s middle class and small businesses with real tax cuts and credits, and against trade deals that allow big corporations to move jobs overseas while avoiding taxes.”
Kevin Kelley, spokesman for Collins’ campaign, said the senator performed well by demonstrating knowledge of the issues and by emphasizing her roots and connections to the area. He declined to comment on Allen’s performance.
“[Collins] has represented not just Republicans and not just Democrats but the people of Maine,” Kelley said. “She’s always made that her goal to be an independent voice for all of Maine, and I think that’s the way she came across [at the debate].”
In the coming weeks, the candidates are expected to meet for seven more debates, one of which will be in Aroostook County. The rest are in southern Maine.