ELLSWORTH, Maine — In her first appearance as a Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate, Shenna Bellows on Wednesday morning listed civil rights, campaign finance reform, the environment and the economy as issues she hopes to address if she gets elected to Congress.
Giving her stump speech its inaugural run to a standing-room-only breakfast crowd at the downtown Riverside Cafe on Main Street, Bellows did not make any mention of Susan Collins, the person she hopes to replace in the U.S. Senate.
Speaking afterward to a reporter, Bellows said she wants voters to learn more about her and not to define herself by who she is running against.
“Today, as I launch, I really want to make sure that voters understand who I am and what I’m about,” Bellows said. “I have a great deal of respect for Sen. Collins’ work ethic, but in the last two decades we’ve experienced a constitutional crisis, an economic crisis and an environmental crisis that threaten our country’s future.”
With her background with the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, where she served as executive director for eight years until last month, civil liberties are expected to figure prominently into Bellows’ campaign platform. On Wednesday, she said that passage in recent years of the Patriot Act, Real ID Act, the National Security Agency electronic monitoring program and the National Defense Authorization Act represent a “constitutional crisis” in Washington that have infringed on the rights of citizens.
“Politicians in Washington have trampled on the Constitution and the Bill of Rights,” Bellows told her supporters. “Those [acts] threaten our democracy and if elected, I will work to repeal those pieces of legislation and improve on our privacy.”
In promoting her credentials for public office, Bellows drew attention to her successful efforts while at the ACLU to get state legislation passed to legalize gay marriage, to protect cellphone privacy, and to restrict the use of surveillance drones. She also mentioned that she worked in economic development, the Peace Corps, and AmeriCorps before the ACLU.
Bellows emphasized that she grew up in the neighboring town of Hancock and is the daughter of a carpenter. She waited tables and worked in retail during high school and college so she could pay her bills, she said.
“This road will be hard. Carpenters’ daughters don’t usually run for federal office,” she said. “These races can cost millions of dollars, and that’s why we have a Congress of millionaires instead of a Congress of working people.”
There is a significant difference in the amounts of money raised so far in the 2014 Senate race.
Collins, who has been in the Senate since 1997, raised more than $800,000 between July 1 and Oct. 1 of this year, giving her a total of more than $3.3 million, which includes more than $2.76 million cash on hand, according to a report provided by her office. Bellows, who declared her candidacy earlier this month, had not raised any money by the end of September and so won’t have to file campaign finance reports with the Federal Elections Commission until January.
Gary Pinder, a Bellows supporter, said Wednesday that Collins’ campaign funds show that she is backed by big corporations.
“Where does that money all come from?” Pinder said after Bellows spoke. “Shenna’s coming out of grassroots [support] and is representing the people. I don’t think that she’s connected — and this shows she’s not connected — with these corporate interests that are running our government.”
Echoing Pinder’s sentiment, Bellows said she will “passionately pursue” campaign finance reform and urged supporters to contribute to her campaign through her website.
“We don’t have the advantages of incumbency, the million-dollar warchest or $3 million warchest starting out of the gate,” she said. “We know that entrenched interests, corporate interests in Washington, will not be likely to support [me].”
Kevin Kelley, spokesman for Sen. Collins, said Wednesday in an email that Mainers are proud of the senator’s national reputation as a voice of reason. The 2014 election is more than a year away, he added, and Sen. Collins has “more than a full-time job” in the Senate.
“She is focused on doing the job that Mainers elected her to do, which includes working to create jobs and grow the economy,” Kelley said. “Most recently, she led a successful, bipartisan effort that helped end the government shutdown, get people back to work, and avoid default on our nation’s debt.”
Sandy Maisel, director of the Goldfarb Center for Public Affairs at Colby College, said this week in an email that while Bellows has had “an outstanding career in Maine defending the civil liberties of Maine citizens,” he thinks it will be difficult for anyone to pose much of a challenge to Collins’ re-election efforts.
“Senator Collins is as safe, in my view, as any Republican in the country,” Maisel said. “She represents our state well in the eyes of a large majority of its citizens. Even those of us who are critical of some of her votes and stands on some issues give her credit for attempting to hold onto her relatively moderate views against the tide of the Tea Party in the Republican Party.”
Bellows also was scheduled to make campaign appearances Wednesday in Portland, Lewiston and Eliot. On Thursday, she is scheduled to make an appearance in Presque Isle at 7:30 a.m. at the Whole Potato Cafe.