BANGOR, Maine — At the foot of Bangor’s 31-foot-tall Paul Bunyan statue, Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Shenna Bellows shared stories from her campaign trek across Maine — stories of rural people who have lost their jobs and are struggling to get by with only part-time work or no work at all.
When she reached her Bangor stop Tuesday morning, Bellows, former executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, was 150 miles into her 350-mile journey from Houlton to Kittery.
“What I’ve observed in my travels across the state … is that the No. 1 issue in this election is jobs and the economy,” Bellows said, flanked by more than 60 supporters. “Many people across the state are struggling right now. They feel like Washington Republicans have lost touch with the priorities of our local communities.”
Bellows talked about her stops during her march across Maine, stressing the struggles of rural towns, such as Mattawamkeag and Smyrna. In Island Falls, she stopped to chat with a man in his front yard with his wife and kids. He told her he lost his job in 2009, when National Starch and Chemical Co., the town’s largest employer, closed. He hasn’t found a new job yet and struggles to get by, cobbling together part-time work.
“That’s a familiar story that I heard every step along the way,” from former mill workers around Millinocket to people in their 60s who lost the jobs they had since high school, Bellows said.
She said federal lawmakers needed to focus on policies that will bring jobs, not just to urban centers but to rural communities, many of which have lost hundreds of jobs in recent years with few alternatives emerging.
She also shared stories about elderly Maine residents who have been struggling to get by, forced to use up their Social Security checks before their needs are met, putting off home repairs and skipping prescription refills.
She said she wants to see the nation increase Social Security benefits, covering the costs by “scrapping the cap.” Currently, tax laws exempt every dollar a person earns above $117,000 from payroll taxes to finance Social Security, meaning high-wage earners don’t pay more into the system once they’ve made $117,001 in a year.
That extra money going into the system would give elderly Mainers more money to fix up their homes, buy goods and be an economic driver for the state, Bellows argued.
“By lifting up the most vulnerable among us, we can lift up local economies,” she said.
During her address, Bellows also referred to staffers struggling to find cellphone reception in parts of the state. She argued that more reliable cellphone service and “universal” broadband Internet access would help drive Maine’s economy and bring jobs to the state.
She also identified Maine as a potential leader in wind, tidal and geothermal energy.
On July 20, Bellows took her first step on her 350-mile campaign trek. She is scheduled to make stops in more than 60 communities by the time she reaches her end in Kittery, which she’s scheduled to reach on Aug. 12.
Bellows said she’s alternating between two pairs of Maine-made New Balance sneakers during her walk, a show of support for Maine manufacturing.
The campaign walk is modeled after a similar march made by William Cohen, a Republican candidate for Maine’s 2nd Congressional District in 1972.
Bellows is vying to unseat Republican Sen. Susan Collins in November. Collins has held her post in the district since 1997. Many consider Bellows to be an underdog in the contest.
“Folks sometimes forget, but [Cohen] was the underdog in that race too,” Bellows said.
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