U.S. Senate Democratic candidate Sara Gideon and her campaign drew over 250 to “Suppers with Sara” at American Legion Post 42 in Damariscotta Feb. 10. Gideon, seeking to unseat four-term incumbent Susan Collins, is running against four other Democrats in the June 9 primary (corrected from previous posting of March 3): Bre Kidman, Ross LaJeunesse and Betsy Sweet.
Gideon said the suppers center on conversation and everyone eating together. “So, Lincoln County – you know how to show up for supper ... (Bean suppers) are our version of a town hall and making sure as I ask you to think about letting me represent you that I understand what is happening in all of our lives no matter where we live or who we are.”
Being Maine’s Speaker of the House is still surreal to Gideon. She said she never thought she would ever run for local office, let alone the U.S. Senate. A voicemail in the middle of a long day, including corralling her three young children into her home in Freeport, set her political career into motion 11 years ago. The call was a friend’s plea that Gideon’s husband Ben needed to run for the town council.
“When I heard that message, I had two thoughts: There's no way that Ben is running for the town council,” Gideon said, with the audience erupting with laughter. “My very next thought though was 'Actually, I think that's a job for me and I think it's a place where I could really make a difference in our community.'”
As she moved from town council to junior representative and then Speaker, Gideon said one of her most important lessons is remembering the common ground in local politics. “Similar to your towns, we didn't have Democrat or Republican next to our name. Whether it was in the State House or during my years as Speaker, what I have learned is that if you're willing to listen and if you are willing to sit down especially with the people that you think you disagree with the most, it’s still possible to get things done.”
Even in the hardest of times and the deepest of divides, everyone must remember defining moments are about what one does with an opportunity to make progress for all, Gideon said. She said some of the greater steps forward during her time as Speaker and as a junior representative include the 2019 Medicare expansion which opened access to insurance for 60,000 people across Maine; strengthened reproductive healthcare when other states have been further restricting it; and aggressive goals to combat climate change, reduce carbon emissions and increase renewable energy generation.
She said these goals should be a focus on Capitol Hill, and issues like climate change and a polarized Supreme Court need more serious action in the Senate.
“These are … some of the ways in which we are most let down by this presidential administration, by this United States Congress and, yes, by Sen. Susan Collins … Every two years or four years or six years, we have the ability to go to the polls and vote for whomever we want from school board to president, but when the whole face of the judiciary in this country is changed with the goal of affecting the issues that are vitally important to us as Americans … this is something we cannot allow to continue… The path of (change) does run through our state. It runs through Maine. It means we have to replace Susan Collins in the U.S. Senate.”
The most important lesson Gideon has learned in the Maine House is, representatives of the people must better bridge the divide between parties and ideologies. At the start of her first term, Gideon said her first inclinations were to react to different points of view with worry and repulsion. After some time, Gideon said she decided to push herself to become better acquainted with people from across the aisle and their views rather than continue to make assumptions. “I made myself sit down with those people and understand what their end-goal was and what motivated them or what made them scared. I think that is what we need to do in our daily lives and our little towns and in the United States Senate.
“Somehow I have this ability, for better or for worse, to wake up every day having magically pressed some reset button in my sleep that allows me to come in again and again with the optimism and belief that it is never too late for us to do the right thing, to make a change, to do something different, to make a different decision than we made yesterday …”
After taking a few questions from the audience, Gideon spoke with the Boothbay Register. Gideon said the votes Collins took she most disagrees with have to do with nearly all judicial nominations and most votes since the 2016 election. “Specifically those nominees that the American Bar Association said were not even fit to be judges at all … The vote that put the Affordable Care Act into extreme jeopardy was also the same vote that gave a $1.5 trillion tax cut to corporations and the wealthiest families in America … and (the vote on) Supreme Court Justice Kavanagh …”
Gideon said her close work with all of Maine’s representatives and her conviction in grounding herself with her constituents have primed her to be an effective U.S. Senator. "First and foremost and most importantly, it's made me be in touch with Mainers all around the state who I've spent time with in the months we're not in session ... Going to knock on doors with my fellow representatives, to get to know people, to sit down at their kitchen tables (then) going back to the State House and working on those issues and finding a way through that tricky process of bringing Democrats and Republicans and Independents together to solve our greatest challenges.”
Gideon said one of the greatest reasons she would be more effective than Collins is she could not do the job without having some sort of connection with voters. She said Collins has not held a town hall in Maine in 24 years. Gideon said she plans on holding at least four per year.
“When I think about how I can represent Maine people – well, I can't do it if I am not still connected to the people I represent and hearing and understanding firsthand what is happening in our lives in different parts of the state … For me, it will always be of the utmost importance to make sure that I am doing that as well as then doing the work that Mainers need in Washington, D.C. One cannot happen without the other.”