BANGOR — Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins blasted the recent campaign tactics of her Democratic opponent, Shenna Bellows, calling her rival’s claims “ludicrous” during a luncheon stop in Bangor on Wednesday.
“Modern campaign cycles tend to be ruled by the caustic Internet slogan of the day,” Collins said in a packed meeting room at the Cross Insurance Center. “Poisonous words are the weapons of choice, and it is amazing how much venom can be spewed in just 140 characters.”
Bellows, formerly the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Maine, launched a slew of criticisms against her opponent in recent weeks, most notably criticizing Collins for voting against the Paycheck Fairness Act and contributing to gridlock in Washington that culminated in the federal government shutdown that started Oct. 1, 2013.
Collins’ camp has countered by arguing Bellows “can’t get her facts straight.”
During Wednesday’s luncheon, hosted by Fusion:Bangor, a networking group for young professionals in the Bangor area, Collins sought to point out the holes in Bellows’ claims.
“Let me start by pointing out the obvious,” Collins said. “I am a woman. I have always believed that I should be paid based on my merits, not based on my gender. And given my gender, I must admit that I found the charge that I supported discriminating against women to be ironic.”
Collins said she opposed the equal pay legislation for several reasons.
First, equal pay for equal work is law. It has been illegal in the U.S. to pay women less than men since the Equal Pay Act passed in 1963. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t employers who violate that law, Collins said, adding she supported the 2009 Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which extended the statute of limitations in equal pay lawsuits. Ledbetter lost her lawsuit, which she filed after learning Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. had been paying her less than her male colleagues for nearly 20 years, because the Supreme Court found she took too long to file it.
Second, the bill would have required thousands of employers to report their workers’ salary and wage information to the federal government and “impose burdens and restrictions on small businesses struggling to create jobs,” Collins said.
Third, class-action trial lawyers would be “the biggest beneficiaries of the bill” because it provides incentives for excessive litigation against employers, Collins argued.
Bellows has argued the fair pay act would have held business owners accountable and would punish them for reckless indifference or ignoring equal pay laws.
Collins also criticized Bellows’ claims that, as a Republican, she helped start last year’s 16-day government shutdown that cost the U.S. economy as much as $24 billion.
Bellows’ campaign recently released a video stating Collins twice sided with her Republican colleagues in votes that led to the government shutdown.
Collins explained her role in the shutdown differently. She said that when the shutdown ended its first week on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013, she heard partisan Senate debates and thought, “This must stop.”
She drafted a plan and rallied bipartisan support. Included in her Common Sense Coalition were seven Republicans, six Democrats and Independent Angus King, who “worked day and night” to craft a compromise and reopen government, Collins said. Media outlets across the country reported on those efforts.
Bellows argued Collins is trying to take credit for solving a problem she helped create.
In response to an audience question about how the U.S. is handling threats posed by Islamic State extremists, Collins called on President Barack Obama to direct the Senate to return to Washington to debate and act on “what is essentially a declaration of war against ISIS.”
Congress, not the Executive branch, has the authority to launch a “prolonged military entanglement,” she argued.
She said she believes airstrikes by the U.S. and its allies are “appropriate” and gave the president credit for rallying support on the ground from Arab nations to reverse the spread of the extremist organization.
“ISIS is a threat that is growing in size and sophistication every single day,” Collins said.