While the other seats in Maine's delegation are being hotly contested, Republican senator Susan Collins gets to observe it all from her new position as the soon-to-be senior member of that four-person group. Having served in the US Senate since 1996, the Caribou native (who tied the knot this summer) has almost two decades of experience under her belt.
An examination of Congressional Quarterly's 2011 Annual Report, which analyzes "Party Unity" votes (those on which a majority of voting Dems opposed a majority of voting Republicans), shows that Collins's moderate-maverick status is not for nothing. Where most other senators' percentages hover in the 80s and 90s, Collins voted with her party only 48 percent of the time (her moderate counterpart Olympia Snowe, who announced her departure from the Senate earlier this year, had a party unity score of 57 percent in 2011). (For Bush-years comparisons, see "The Gulf of Maine," by Jeff Inglis, October 10, 2008.) We asked Collins how she's feeling about the changes on the horizon.
"As I have always done, I will work closely with whomever Maine voters chose to be our next senator and I will assist him or her in being an effective advocate for our State," she told the Phoenix. "I will share with Maine's junior senator how important it is to have good relationships with people on both sides of the aisle. Building good relationships will be critical for Maine's new senator.
"Seniority in the Senate is, however, even more important than seniority within a delegation. It is especially important when it comes to committee assignments, which is where much of the Senate's work takes place. I would hope that Maine's new senator would coordinate his or her committee choices with me, as I did with Olympia Snowe, to ensure that Maine's interests are broadly represented."
Collins, who has actively campaigned for Republican US Senate candidate Charlie Summers, is a senior member of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, the Armed Services Committee, the Transportation and Housing Appropriations Subcommittee, and the Special Committee on Aging. She notes some relevant highlights, including passage of the 2004 Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act; repeal of the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy; earmarking of funds to replace bridges in Kittery, Dresden, and Rumford; and "passage of the law that allows the heaviest trucks to drive on federal highways in Maine, thus reducing energy consumption, improving safety, and helping shippers, truckers, and Maine's job creators."
"These are just some of the accomplishments made possible by a combination of seniority, bipartisanship, and hard work," Collins said. "Certainly losing Olympia's experience in Congress will truly be a loss for Maine. What won't change, however, is my commitment to seeking solutions to our nation's many challenges."