Susan Collins tends to say three specific things when she talks to Maine voters about why she should be re-elected to the U.S. Senate.
She says she has a proven bi-partisan record, having voted across the aisle with Democrats one-third of the time. She says she has a history of being effective, having successfully written legislation on homeland security, education, health care and other issues.
And she says she has more work she would like to accomplish. The spiraling economy and the cost and sustainability of energy, she says, are among the most pressing issues that need to be addressed.
“You deserve a senator who knows how to get things done, a senator who has been effective for you,” Collins said during a recent debate in Brewer with Tom Allen, the 1st District congressman who hopes to win her seat on Nov. 4. “I have a long record of legislative accomplishments.”
Like most seeking elective office, Collins stresses her local roots and how her life experiences have shaped her outlook, which she believes reflects the priorities and concerns of most of her constituents. She is quick to emphasize her ties to Maine’s small-business community, which she has said makes up the backbone of the state’s economy.
Her brothers still run the northern Maine lumber supply business that her parents owned and operated. It has been in the family since 1844.
Collins also served as the first executive director of the Center for Family Business at Husson College, recently renamed Husson University, and as New England administrator of the federal Small Business Administration.
“I know firsthand the struggles of small business,” Collins said during a recent visit to Trans-Tech Industries in Brewer. “I’d like to continue that service to the small businesses of Maine and the hundreds of thousands of people they employ.”
Collins, 55, is single and has no children but has strong, long-term family ties to Aroostook County, where she grew up in Caribou and still has close relatives.
Much as Tom Allen was introduced to politics through his parents, Collins was introduced to politics through her father and mother, Don and Pat Collins. In addition to running the family lumber supply business, Don and Pat each at one point served as mayor of Caribou. Don Collins also served as a Maine state senator.
During the Brewer debate, Collins recalled how as a child she would ride up and down the escalators at Freese’s department store in downtown Bangor, where she has lived for the past 14 years. She said she also used to come to Bangor every winter from Caribou to attend the high school basketball tournament at the Bangor Auditorium.
Collins’ experience in public service goes back to the 1970s, when she graduated from St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y., and started work as an aide to then-Sen. William Cohen. She worked for Cohen for more than a decade before she became Maine’s commissioner of professional and financial regulation in 1987 under Gov. John McKernan. After running unsuccessfully for governor in 1994, she successfully ran for the Senate in 1996 and has been there since.
Not surprisingly, Collins has spent a good deal of time of late talking about the economy.
She thinks there should be more scrutiny of Wall Street and better disclosure for investors in order to encourage more transparency of financial markets and better lending practices.
“I think we need more eyes on the problem and more investigators, overseers and auditors whose interests are the consumers, not the regulated entity,” Collins said during a recent campaign bus ride to Bangor from Waterville, where she had just spoken to the Rotary Club about the federal economic stabilization package. The package, she said, was necessary to keep the country from slipping into an economic depression.
During the bus ride to Waterville, Collins prepared for the talk by checking stock market prices on her personal digital assistant while a handful of volunteers sat behind her, stuffing campaign literature into envelopes.
“Aye-aye-aye,” Collins said, reading the figures on the PDA’s small screen. “The Dow [Jones Industrial Average] has fallen below 10,000. And it’s all due to [stock prices in] Europe.”
Collins — like Allen — has stressed the importance of developing alternate sources of energy to reduce the country’s dependence on foreign oil. Sustainable sources of energy from wind, water and biomass materials such as wood can be developed from Maine’s natural resources and can help boost the state and national economy, each candidate has said.
Collins said she is part of a “Gang of 20” senators — 10 Democrats and 10 Republicans — who have been working on a comprehensive energy proposal that would allow for more off-shore drilling and provide tax incentives for wind power development and funding for advanced battery research, among other things. The proposal is one thing she would like to complete before January, if she is re-elected, she said.
“There’s a lot of work left to be done,” she said.
During the campaign, Collins has criticized Allen for what she says is his lack of bipartisanship and effectiveness and his low business-friendly rating. He has missed 157 votes in the House, she said, and has voted with his party 98 percent of the time.
Allen has countered those arguments by saying he supports the middle class and Collins sides with Bush too much. He has said he has been unafraid to stand up to his party leadership and has participated in 98 percent of the House votes during his tenure.
But Collins said her record of accomplishments and bipartisanship speaks for itself. These things, she said, are more important than which party has a majority in the Senate. She also said voters prefer not to put all the power of government into one person or party.
“I think people look at who’s been more effective,” Collins said. “I also think people want checks and balances.”
If re-elected, Collins said, she will take the same approach back to Washington that has helped her write and pass legislation that has improved port security, oversight of contractors in Iraq, and increased funding for diabetes research, among other things.
“I’m one of the least-partisan members of the United States Senate,” she said. “That’s the only way you can get things done.”