It’s been almost 20 years since Maine had a Democratic representative in the U.S. Senate (George Mitchell, if you’re keeping track). The smart money says we won’t elect a Democrat this year, either, but this is a case where I hope the smart money is wrong.
No disrespect to Sen. Susan Collins, and no mudslinging, either; there’s precious little mud to sling. She’s been a purple senator in an increasingly purple state, where we have a conservative governor in Paul LePage and an independent (but centrist) senator in Angus King. But when I get those emails from the Collins campaign calling her “our Senator,” I have to disagree.
Sen. Susan Collins is considered a moderate who compromises a lot. Sounds good, but when it comes down to casting votes that serve Mainers, she always seems to end up with her Republican colleagues, led by Mitch McConnell — the hardline block that shut down the government last year and has since neglected many urgent issues (including better care for our veterans) in a near maniacal effort to repeal an Affordable Care Act that is already working.
Moderation is fine, but only up to a point. It’s not helpful to Mainers when Collins continues to vote on the wrong side of policies that matter most.
Collins supports the Patriot Act, and has repeatedly voted for its renewal. She has repeatedly voted to authorize (and legalize) NSA spying. Shenna Bellows advocates repeal of the Patriot Act, and so do I. Obviously we need to keep an eye out for terrorists on American soil, but in the age of drones and mega-surveillance, it’s way past time to restructure this thing. And although Collins claims the NSA spying program is fair, it looks to me too much like a doorway to that world George Orwell wrote about in 1984.
Bellows supports raising the minimum wage. Collins opposes it, which makes me roll my eyes in exasperation. A $10.10 per hour wage in an America where gasoline costs $3.65 a gallon — and where a great many Maine workers have to travel long distances to their place of employment — seems fair to me. The idea that 10 bucks an hour will flatten the economy is basically an idea promulgated by rich greedheads who don’t want to pony up what’s fair to hard workers who are struggling to make ends meet.
Collins supports the Keystone Pipeline. This just makes me sigh, but not because of the pipeline per se. It’s where it comes from. This is tar sands oil, and according to the National Wildlife Federation, it’s “one of the dirtiest, costliest, and most destructive fuels in the world.” It lays waste to fragile ecosystems, emits more of the pollutants associated with global warming when burned, and creates lake-sized reservoirs of toxic waste. It’s a lethally short-sighted quick fix, and the supporters of the Keystone are its enablers.
Bellows believes that genetically modified foods (known as GMOs, and called “Frankenfoods” in my house, but that’s just us) should be labeled. In 2013, Collins voted against a law that would have mandated labeling these modified products, more or less turning her back on all the organic farmers here in Maine who were in favor.
I could go on. Collins voted against the Paycheck Fairness Act, mandating that women get equal pay for equal work (and you thought Lincoln freed the slaves). She voted for the Iraq war, and OMG, what a horrible idea that was. Her personal views on same-sex marriage are unclear to me, while Bellows is frank and up-front on the subject, stating her belief that gay folks should have the same rights under the law as straight folks (and the same responsibilities, of course).
Collins has shown leadership, at least within her own party, which hasn’t always been easy. She shows up, she does the job, she interacts with her constituents. All good. For this lifetime Mainer, however, she’s on the wrong side of too many issues to deserve re-election. I’m voting for Bellows. No smart money there, just smart ideas, idealism and youthful energy.
Stephen King is a novelist who has lived in Bangor for more than 30 years. He winters in Florida.