Tom Allen, a Portland resident who has represented Maine’s 1st District in the U.S. House of Representatives for 12 years, likes to say that even though he and Sen. Susan Collins have served in Congress for the same amount of time, he is the candidate in the race who represents change.
Allen, a Democrat who served on the Portland City Council before first being elected to Congress in 1996, is not seeking re-election to his House seat because he hopes to beat Collins in her re-election bid on Nov. 4.
The difference between them is simple, according to Allen. Collins, a Republican, has consistently supported President Bush, whether it is the war in Iraq, economic policy, or the nomination of judges to the federal bench.
Allen says he has opposed the president’s major policy decisions, including those that have harmed the economy, which he said is the biggest issue in the campaign. Those policies have helped the wealthiest people in the country but have adversely affected Mainers in both the southern and northern reaches of the state, he said.
“I think that this race comes down to a simple choice,” he said during a recent appearance in Old Town. “If you think [Bush’s economic policies] have made life better in Maine, then you should vote for Susan Collins, because she’s the only member of the Maine delegation who voted for every single one. I voted against every single one.”
Allen says the distinctions between Collins and him apply to other issues as well. He says he is the only Senate candidate with a universal health care plan and that, unlike Collins, he voted against the war in Iraq and wants to set a deadline for bringing American troops home. When it comes to energy issues, he says Collins in 2005 voted in favor of giving tax breaks to the oil industry and he did not.
“If you want to change the direction of the country you have to change the leadership in Washington,” Allen said during a recent debate with Collins in Brewer. “That’s what I offer in this race.”
Allen, 63, has been making the argument for change to Maine voters for roughly the past two years.
Like Collins, his political roots go back to his childhood, when his parents were politically active in their hometown. Both his father and grandfather served on the Portland City Council before he did, while his mother was local president of the League of Women Voters.
After attending Bowdoin College, Allen spent three years at Oxford University in England on a Rhodes scholarship, overlapping two years at the school with fellow Rhodes scholar and future President Bill Clinton. When he returned to the States, he attended Harvard Law School and then moved back to Maine to work as a lawyer. He served on the Portland City Council from 1989 to 1995.
Allen and his wife, Diana, whom he met in eighth grade, have two grown daughters. One recently had their first grandchild, a boy. Charlie, who is named after Tom Allen’s father, was born Feb. 26, the day after Diana Allen had surgery for cancer. On the stump, Allen often says Charlie is a big reason he wants to make the world a better place.
Diana Allen is still receiving cancer treatments, according to her husband, but her health has improved enough over recent weeks that she can rejoin him on the campaign trail.
Running for Senate while going through the ups and downs of his personal life has been challenging, Allen said.
“Thank God for adrenaline,” he said. “Adrenaline is a lifesaver. [The campaign] is exciting. It’s exhilarating. It’s tiring. It’s all these things at once.”
Allen said he and Diana have grown to accept his life as a congressman as normal, even though it has not been easy. He said he once told her, early in his career as a lawyer, that he wasn’t being challenged enough.
“Well, I never say that anymore,” Allen said. “I’ve never said it when I was in the House and it would be impossible even to think it during this campaign because it tests you in every conceivable way — mentally, physically, emotionally.”
Throughout the campaign, Allen has painted Collins as an ally of Bush whose support of the president has contributed to mismanagement of the economy, to the Iraq war, and to skyrocketing energy costs.
Collins has countered those arguments by describing Allen as a party-line Democrat and by stressing her record of legislative and bipartisan accomplishments.
But bipartisanship is not always a hallmark of good policy, according to Allen, who cited the bipartisan support in Congress for invading Iraq in 2002 as an example.
“Susan is more interested in being bipartisan than right,” he said.
Members of Congress are known for manipulating their voting records to appear more bipartisan than they really are, he said, and bipartisanship is more of a necessity in the Senate, which is split evenly between Democrats and Republicans with 49 seats each. Democrats hold the leadership positions in the Senate because the two independents, Connecticut’s Joe Lieberman and Vermont’s Bernie Sanders, side with Democrats on most issues.
“The Senate will function a lot better if it’s not tied,” Allen said. “Now, it’s essentially tied so at any moment a single change — a defection by Joe Lieberman, an illness of one person being replaced by another — can change the balance of power.”
If elected, Allen said, he will continue to stand up for what he believes is right. He said that in the House he stood up to the pharmaceutical industry to try to reduce the cost of prescription drugs. He stood up to his party leadership in pursuit of campaign finance reform, and he supported the recent economic bailout package, even though the e-mails coming in to his office were against it 99-to-1. The package, he said, was necessary to stave off the economy’s collapse.
“On the big issues, I will stick my neck out and make a decision that may seem to be unpopular at the time but it’s in the long-run interests of my constituents and not in my own short-term interests,” Allen said.