Picking a loser
There are lots of very nice things about living in Maine. It’s a beautiful state, with rocky beaches and deep forests. People are generally pretty friendly, though there’s certainly a bit of New England reserve in the more rural areas. The cost of living is pretty low. If you’re the sort of person who wants a good variety of locally-sourced foods, it doesn’t take much work to find farmer’s markets and talk to the people who raise or grow the meat and vegetables themselves.
It’s a nice place to live.
Furthermore, if you happen to be the kind of person who cares about getting to know the people who make your laws, Maine has much to recommend it. A minimally-motivated citizen can get to know his or her legislators without much effort. If Augusta is relatively close to you and you care about some issue or campaign, there isn’t a byzantine, imposing structure of barriers and baffles to keep you separated from the ones making the decisions.
Being something of an opinionated loudmouth, over the years I’ve gotten involved in several different issue campaigns. In the process, I’ve gotten to know many of the people who have done the principal lobbying and advocacy work. And thus my ears perked up when I heard one of them mentioned on the radio this morning:
Normally accessible to reporters, Shenna Bellows… was hard to find Friday as she continued to dodge interview requests about her future plans. Reliable political sources confirm that she has decided to seek the Democratic nomination [for US Senate] and take a leave of absence from her duties as the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine.
I know Shenna relatively well, largely from the work we both did on Maine’s first marriage-equality campaign in 2009. My clearest memory of her is her standing at the head of the line of people who were there in support of marriage equality and shepherding them to the podium when it was their turn to offer testimony. (It sounds easier than it was.) While we’re hardly best friends, I’ve had lots of pleasant and rewarding professional interactions with her.
I wish I could say that I greeted her potential run for the US Senate with more optimism. Not only would it be cool personally to have a professional acquaintance in that august chamber, it would be handy should I ever schlep to DC in support of some issue I care about in the future. Sadly, I’d be willing to bet you a fancy dinner at any of Portland’s nicer restaurants that (assuming she gets the nomination) Sen. Collins is going to blow her out of the water.
Susan Collins is one of the most popular members of the US Senate, and would handily defeat much more prominent Democrats than Ms. Bellows. The only way a Democrat has any chance of defeating her is if she gets a primary challenger from the right, and Republican voters take total leave of their senses and fail to nominate her again. (Considering the real charmer we’ve ended up with for governor, it’s not entirely impossible.) If she’s the GOP’s nominee, it would be the world’s easiest political bet to pick her for reelection.
Frankly, were I inclined to vote for a Republican, Sen. Collins is exactly the kind I’d be inclined to vote for. She seems like one of the few remaining voices of sanity in an increasingly unhinged, wholly dysfunctional party. She’s voted the way I’d want on certain issues important to me, and I suspect she’d be a progressive vote on similar issues in the future. She opposes military intervention in Syria, which is something I can’t even say of all the prominent members of the party I usually support. If one laments the demise of moderation in the nation’s lawmakers (as I do), then Sen. Collins is precisely the kind of lawmaker one might consider supporting.
I’m probably going to vote against her anyway. Not just because Shenna is my friend. Not just because the idea of the GOP controlling both chambers of Congress makes me wake drenched in cold sweat. No, because of this:
A native of Hancock, Bellows has been active in several statewide campaigns, including the effort to legalize same-sex marriage and to oppose state voter ID requirements. And at 38, she’s had early success in both. She has also earned the support of some libertarian-leaning Republicans who support her stands against the Patriot Act — a measure that broadened government surveillance powers and was staunchly defended by Collins. [emphasis mine]
I’m going to take Patrick’s advice. I’m going to try, albeit almost certainly unsuccessfully, to fire my Senator.
The Patriot Act is an insidious blight. We are only just now learning how very vast and dangerous is the whirlwind we are reaping because of it, and people who cherish the idea that they might ever hope to keep anything private while storing or transmitting it electronically should be horrified. For my part, I would dearly like to believe that the patient medical records I store and transmit electronically, which are required to be encrypted by the hospitals where I am on staff, actually stay private. But at this point I would be a fool to do so.
It is a disgrace to our nation that this is so. It is a consummate betrayal that not one single person in this country can reasonably hope that they will be free of governmental prying should the government assert a need to do so. It is a tragedy that the technologies we enjoy, which allow us to communicate across the world in an instant and which open vistas to us that we might otherwise never see, have become a tidy little portal for government agents to peek into our business without so much as the courtesy of a knock at our door.
It feels strange to support a candidate I am almost certain will lose. But I’m going to do it anyway, and know that it’s the right thing to do. I like Shenna, and I think she’d serve Maine well in the off chance she somehow won election. But really, I’m voting against a person who defended a law that has made American citizens vulnerable to bad actors, both from within and without the government. And there’s just no voting for that.