AUGUSTA — Shenna Bellows, the Democratic challenger trying to unseat U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, unleashed another round of criticism of Collins’ votes on a range of issues during a news conference at the State House on Thursday.

Bellows, the former executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, went after Collins for her votes on everything from the minimum wage to federal campaign finance reform to the federal government shutdown in 2013.

“The people of Maine are frustrated with gridlock in Washington, and I share their concern,” Bellows said. She said the current Congress was on track to pass fewer bills than any Congress since World War II and that was largely due to “unprecedented obstruction by Washington Republicans.”

“Washington Republicans have elevated partisan politics over people, and when it mattered Susan Collins voted lock step with Washington Republicans to block popular reforms.”

Bellows also cited Collins’ opposition to a bill offered by Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders that would have helped veterans.

That bill would have provided $21 billion to improve medical services, education and job training for veterans. Bellows noted Collins’ vote was widely criticized by veterans’ groups, including the American Legion, which said her vote was “inexcusable.”

But Collins’ campaign shot back quickly, saying Bellows was confusing or misconstruing the senator’s votes in an attempt to gain political advantage.

“It is very, very difficult to have a substantive discussion on these issues when the other side can’t even get their facts straight,” Lance Dutson, Collins’ campaign spokesman, said.

Dutson said Bellows and political action committees supporting her with television advertising have repeatedly presented misinformation about Collins’ record and appeared incapable of fairly assessing Collins’ votes.

Collins, who is seeking her fourth term in the Senate and is widely viewed as a moderate lawmaker, has led Bellows, a first-time candidate, in public polling by wide margins in Maine. 

On the minimum wage issue Bellows said, if elected, she would work with members of the libertarian wing of the Republican Party to move a federal wage hike forward. 

Bellows said President Barack Obama’s proposal to move the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour had popular support and would widely benefit Maine workers and the state’s economy.

“People who work full time should be able to feed their families and pay their bills,” Bellows said. She said Collins “voted on the side of big corporations and against the interest of working families.”

“It’s clear voters support forward-looking policies that provide more security and a better life for working Mainers and their families,” Bellows said.

While Collins has said she supports a federal minimum wage increase, she does not necessarily support the president’s proposal to move the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 an hour. Maine’s minimum wage is set at $7.50 an hour by state law.

In 2014, the Democratic majority in the state Legislature passed legislation to bump that to $9.75 an hour over a three-year period, but the bill was unable to overcome a veto by Republican Gov. Paul LePage.

Dutson said Collins based her opposition to hiking the federal rate to $10.10 an hour on research done by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office that suggested such a move could cost the nation up to 500,000 jobs.

“What the senator believes is there is a middle ground,” Dutson said. “There’s a way we can increase the minimum wage, which she supports, but in a way that is phased in, in a way that’s not so aggressive and is going to cause such a shock to the open market.”

Bellows also challenged Collins on her recent vote against a bill that could have led to a nationwide vote on an amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The amendment, which would overturn a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on federal campaign finance limits, would largely limit campaign spending and increase disclosure for corporations and other large entities such as unions.

On the veterans bill, Dutson said Collins opposed the legislation because it did not include important provisions that allowed veterans in rural areas to seek medical services from local health care providers rather than traveling great distances to Veterans Administration medical facilities for treatments and care.

At the time of the debate on the bill, Republicans in the Senate also opposed the bill because it was going to impact the federal budget.

“It would have blown up the budget,” Dutson said. He said Collins’ approach was aimed at fixing problems within an already struggling VA.

“This Sanders bill would have literally flooded the Veterans Administration with millions of new patients at a time when they couldn’t even deal with the ones that they had,” he said.

Dutson also said Bellows’ criticism of Collins on campaign finance reform also seems misguided. He said Bellows previously was opposed to the reforms herself, as is the organization she formerly worked for, the ACLU.

Bellows said she has long been consistent on supporting federal campaign finance reform and a constitutional amendment to overturn the landmark Citizens United Supreme Court ruling, and that Dutson was misstating her record.

She said her opposition was only to one specific aspect of the amendment that she believed was “overbroad. I explained exactly why that particular proposal could have unintended consequences to limit the free-speech rights of Americans,” Bellows said.

She said the current amendment that Collins opposed was “carefully constructed, that would put in common-sense limits on campaign spending.”

Collins, Bellows maintained, is still opposing that change. “Right now, big money threatens to drown out the voices of ordinary people, and we need campaign finance reform,” Bellows said.

[email protected]


Facebook comments