PORTLAND, Maine — Sen. Susan Collins’ voting streak nearly came to an abrupt end in 2007 during a Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee meeting. A roll call vote was called on the Senate floor, but Chairman Joe Lieberman assured her the vote would be held up.
Nevertheless, Collins followed her instincts and quietly left the room, then raced to the Capitol and scrambled down marble hallways to the Senate.
“Because I was running in high heels, I twisted my ankle, actually,” she said.
She made it “with seconds to spare,” she said, and 13 other committee members missed the vote.
On Thursday, there was no drama as Collins voted in support of final passage of the Public Lands Act, bringing her record of consecutive votes to 4,000. The Maine Republican also holds the distinction of never having missed a vote during her Senate career.
Collins’ inspiration is another Maine Republican, the late Margaret Chase Smith, who never missed a Senate roll call in 13 years before surgery ended the streak at 2,941.
“One of my goals has been to make sure that Maine is always represented to the extent that it’s humanly possible for me to be present for votes,” Collins said Thursday from Washington.
The streak has meant sacrifices.
Collins likes to come home to Bangor on weekends, and she often ends up on the late flight on Fridays and takes care to return Sunday.
In January, she had to bow out of a trip to Afghanistan with then-Vice President-elect Joseph Biden because votes were scheduled.
But her ability to say she has never missed a vote hits a note with Mainers, said Sandy Maisel, director of the Goldfarb Center for Public Affairs and Civic Engagement at Colby College.
“It is something that resonates with voters and one can make the argument that we send our representatives to Washington to vote,” he said.
The streak may be impressive, but it’s not unprecedented.
Iowa Republican Chuck Grassley holds the record for consecutive votes among sitting senators with 5,447; the last vote he missed was during the Great Flood of 1993 when he and President Clinton toured flood-ravaged areas, he said.
Grassley said Thursday that he considers his streak an antidote to voter cynicism.
Many voters think members of Congress are sitting around with their feet on the desk or jetting around the world on a junket, Grassley said. “When we’re in session, I can tell people I’m here voting,” he said. “In other words, I’m on the job.”
The Senate’s all-time record holder, Wisconsin Democrat William Proxmire, topped 10,000 in a voting streak that started in 1966.
Proxmire as well as Grassley missed votes before their streaks began. So neither can best Collins’ claim never to having missed a vote.
As for Collins, she realizes that the streak can’t go forever. She said she’s lucky that she’s healthy and there have been no family crises or funerals to cause her to miss a vote.
“I do recognize that there are certainly legitimate reasons to miss votes, and someday I’ll be forced to miss a vote,” she said. She just hopes it’s not anytime soon.