AUGUSTA – Don Bilodeau, 52, of Leeds, came to Augusta on Tuesday to thank U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, for her tough questions about President Bush’s plan to privatize Social Security.

On the same day that Snowe’s Senate Finance Committee held its hearing on President Bush’s Social Security reform, Bilodeau and others – mostly Democrats – spoke at a State House rally asking Maine’s senior senator not to allow the safety net used by most of Maine’s elderly to be turned over to Wall Street.

One Republican spokesman countered the criticism of Bush’s plan, saying claims that only Wall Street would benefit from privatizing Social Security are “misstatements.” He said the personal investment option Bush proposes would be voluntary.

Speaking at the rally, Lewiston native Bilodeau said Social Security is too important to privatize. “I’ll never forget the phone call I got when I was 23 years old saying my father had just died, with my mother and my 11-year-old sister at home wondering what they were going to do if it weren’t for Social Security,” he said.

His mother and sister depended solely on Social Security for five years until his mother got a job. “Life was pretty hard for them. Then, when I was 26 years old, the same thing that killed my father almost killed me. The same type of heart attack. I didn’t know what to do.”

Someone told him Social Security could help. It did, he said. He needed Social Security for only a couple of months before returning to work, “but thank God it was there.”

Bilodeau was one of several speakers at the “Social Security Works” rally opposing the president’s plans.

State Senate President Beth Edmonds, D-Freeport, said she’s introducing a nonbinding resolution to be sent to Maine’s congressional delegation asking members to reject any Social Security privatization.

House Speaker John Richardson, D-Brunswick, said that since President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act 70 years ago, it has prevented the kind of poverty people suffered during the Great Depression.

Richardson said he’s painfully aware of how his 401(k) retirement account lost money when the stock market took a dive. “That’s what the president wants us to go to: a 401(k) that when the bubble hits, my assets drop in half. Can you imagine that happening to me at age 65?”

During Tuesday’s Senate Finance Committee hearing in Washington, Snowe expressed concern and raised questions about Bush’s plan.

But Maine Republican Party spokesman Barry Flynn said rally speakers were not providing the whole picture, that President Bush is calling for a permanent fix for Social Security’s deficit.

Flynn stressed that seniors and all those near retirement age will not see any changes in their benefits. Rather, Bush wants to allow baby boomers to invest in the private market, if they wish, Flynn said.

“These are all voluntary calls for reform,” he said.

Tuesday’s State House rally was organized by the Maine People’s Alliance and other groups that make up the Americans United to Protect Social Security.

Similar rallies were planned for other states, said organizer Jesse Graham of the MPA.

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