Op-Ed: We’re done wasting breath on the likes of Collins and Poliquin
The following Maine Voices guest column by Karin Leuthy and Kelli Whitlock Burton appeared in the Portland Press Herald on Oct. 10, 2018.
After the 2016 election, Maine saw an uprising of constituents who came together to advocate for the people and issues left behind by the Trump administration. Made up of dozens of statewide, regional and small-town grassroots groups whose thousands of members share progressive values, Maine’s “resistance” is independent, largely volunteer-driven and almost exclusively women-led. Many of these groups led efforts to oppose Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination through nonviolent civic action, most vocally after Christine Blasey Ford’s sexual assault allegations turned the campaign into a battle over the credibility of survivors and the standing of the #MeToo movement.
Kavanaugh’s swearing in over the weekend was a bitter pill to swallow. Despite months of working collectively to make the case that this nominee would be bad for Maine and the country, in the end, the evidence we presented did not matter. Neither did credible accusations of sexual assault; a shocking display of entitlement, belligerence and partisan vitriol, or even lying under oath.
But what of our relationship with Collins? Suit Up Maine and similar groups operate under the theory that communicating with elected officials helps them know their constituents’ values and makes it more likely that the officials will make decisions the folks back home approve of, resulting in happy constituents who return the favor in votes. In this sunny ideal of civic engagement, members of Congress seek out input with public forums, open office hours, online questionnaires and town hall meetings and provide thoughtful responses to questions. What Mainers have learned in the past two years is that, for our Republican members of Congress, this standard seems far too high.
Weary 2nd District residents have watched Rep. Bruce Poliquin scurry into bathrooms to avoid questions and effectively play a game of hide-and-seek from constituents and the press. Collins is just as hard to pin down in person, and her staff is always armed with explanations for why she doesn’t hold regular office hours for constituents visiting D.C., as Sen. Angus King does (she’s too busy), or public forums back home (some people talk too much). Her form-letter responses offer no answers to specific questions, and her public statements voicing vague “concern” about key issues have a memelike quality.
Many Mainers are done wasting their time on lawmakers who refuse to engage authentically with their constituents, who vote against their interests, then falsely paint dissatisfied constituents with valid concerns as an “angry mob.” We are done begging them to perform their sworn duties to provide checks and balances and uphold ethical standards. We don’t have time for that. So for those lawmakers out there who suddenly notice that their phones have stopped ringing, don’t take comfort in the silence. It means we’re busy elsewhere, working to take your seat.
Karin Leuthy of Camden and Kelli Whitlock Burton of Waldoboro are co-leaders of Suit Up Maine.