Guest Column in the Brunswick Times Record, January 13, 2017
Because Republicans have only a two-vote plurality in the U.S. Senate, I am going to be paying close attention to Maine’s own Sen. Susan Collins.
One reason is that she is one of my Senators from the state of Maine. She represents me: she speaks and acts for me and for all other Mainers. But there’s another reason. At any moment over the next two years, just she and any one other Republican Senator are what give Mitch McConnell his power as the Senate Majority leader. Whatever the Republican Party is about to do with its control of the House of Representatives, and the Presidency as well as the Senate, just Senator Collins and one other Republican Senator are likely to be able to put a stop to it by saying no.
President-Elect Trump has named his nominees for many of his cabinet posts: a nominee for Secretary of Education (Betsy DeVos) who is an opponent of public education; a nominee for Attorney General (Jeff Sessions) who has appalling record on civil rights; a nominee for Secretary of the Treasury (Steven Mnuchin) straight from Wall Street; a nominee for Secretary of State (Rex Tillerson) who has been a business crony of Vladimir Putin; a nominee for Energy Secretary (Rick Perry) who wanted to eliminate the Department but couldn’t remember its name; a nominee for Secretary of Labor (Andrew Puzder) who opposes the minimum wage; a Director of the EPA (Scott Pruitt) who is a close ally of big oil and coal: Senator Collins and just one other Republican Senator could deny confirmation to any or all of these threats to the common welfare.
And then there is likely the legislative agenda I’ll be watching.
Consider the Affordable Care Act: the health care policy that ensures all Americans can have health care? I was disappointed that Sen. Collins didn’t vote for the ACA when it passed Congress in 2010. The Obama administration took a Republican approach first tried in Massachusetts as its template for guaranteeing health care for all Americans in a hope that its bill would find bipartisan support. Sen. Collins was the last hope for a Republican supporter, but she stuck with Mitch McConnell on that one.
Now the Republican leaders vow to scuttle the Affordable Care Act without having any meaningful alternative except to return care for the nation’s health to large insurance companies. I’m hoping Sen. Collins will stand against repeal of the Affordable Care Act to insure that my family and yours can have a right to affordable health insurance.
Donald Trump will likely soon name a nominee for the vacant position on the Supreme Court. I’ll be watching to see whether Sen. Collins insists that the nominee has a record showing respect and advocacy for the civil rights for all Americans, whatever their race or ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation.
Or take climate change. The Republican Party and now President elect Trump oppose any meaningful action to slow the human-caused warming of the planet. We’re likely now to see proposals to weaken environmental protections and to allow much more exploitation of coal and oil. Will Sen. Collins stand up to protect future generations from a super-heated earth? I’ll be watching. She’ll be a critical vote on this issue, too.
I know I need to do much more than watch. It isn’t only Sen. Collins who bears responsibility for what happens next at this critical juncture in our nation’s life. So, too do Sen. King and Representatives Pingree and Poliquin.
But then so, too, do you and me. We all bear responsibility for what happens next in the great story of this grand old republic. We all need to pay attention, be informed, write our Senators and Representatives, voice our hopes, and recommit ourselves to truth telling and caring for one another. We all need to show up and stand up. “With liberty and justice for all” — that is what we promise one another when we rise to Pledge Allegiance. We all need to be stepping up to that challenge. Liberty and justice for all will be our future only if we all stand behind these commitments with all our hearts and minds.
Sen. Collins simply has a special responsibility because her vote and just one other could be the margin between what can make America true to its promises or what can lead us down a very wrong path.