One of the most basic tasks of a United States senator is to advocate for her state. While this is often in the form of arguing for federal funding, it also includes fighting for jobs. That means not only assisting private employers in dealing with federal regulations, but also advocating for Maine companies to get federal contracts when those opportunities become available.
Regardless of how you personally feel about a certain company or industry, you have to be willing to make the resources of your office available to all of your constituents. You often have to set ideology aside to do what’s right for the entire state, not just your supporters. Doing this in an effective way requires a certain degree of pragmatism.
This is where Democratic challenger Shenna Bellows ran into a bit of trouble recently, as first reported by The Maine Wire. Speaking at a gathering of Peace Action Maine, she responded to a question about converting the defense economy — presumably including Bath Iron Works, one of the state’s largest employers — to “peacetime purposes.” Getting the state’s most visible defense contractor to stop building destroyers for the United States Navy has long been a goal of peace activists.
Instead of pointing out that BIW and other defense contractors in the state were great employers who gave thousands of Mainers good jobs, she told this group exactly what they wanted to hear (beginning around 6:50):
“Maine could be a leader, for example, in solar and wind and conservation. So I think that conversion is incredibly exciting. And I think that again, it’s not a question of spend more or cut more, it’s a question of how you spend federal dollars that is so important. And spending it investing in jobs for the future [original emphasis] is incredibly important.”
This is alarming on several levels, but notably the implication that defense industry jobs are jobs of the past.
If BIW stops building U.S. Navy ships, a lot of people will lose their jobs. You can offer all the retraining you want, but many people will be out of work. None of those programs ever help everyone, and many of the supposed new jobs won’t go to the newly unemployed.
Many of those who do find new jobs will find lower-quality, lower-paying jobs. They could be forced to leave the area or the state to do it. There will be a huge, gaping hole in the economy of the midcoast — and the state — that will take decades to repair, if ever.
Moreover, if the federal defense dollars aren’t spent in our state, they won’t be spent on other things, just elsewhere. That will take the jobs out of Maine and leave thousands of people unemployed, but it won’t refocus that defense spending.
We need a United States senator who will advocate for all kinds of jobs for Maine. We need a senator who will put the needs of the state ahead of her own ideology. Given her words in front of Peace Action Maine, it’s reasonable to question whether Shenna Bellows can be an effective advocate for not only Maine’s defense industry, but all employers. It seems that, like other Democrats, she only wants certain kinds of jobs for Mainers.
It’s not reasonable, though, to question Collins’ ability to do so. She has a proven track record of fighting for Maine jobs. She’s shown a commitment to bringing businesses to Maine, and she’s been an effective advocate for our current employers. All of us can be proud of the work Collins has done to help businesses, large and small, across our state — and we can trust that will always be a top priority for her, far ahead of ideology.
That’s just the kind of senator — the kind of person — she is, and will continue to be, for all of us.