On the issues: U.S. Senatorial Candidate Susan Collins

Sun, 10/18/2020 - 8:45am

Penobscot Bay Pilot has posed questions to each candidate running for U.S. Congressional seats, providing the opportunity for the public to better understand their position on issues important to the state and nation.

Candidates responding with their individual written answers will have their responses stored in the Pilot’s 2020 Election Resource Guide.

Susan Collins, Republican, is seeking reelection to represent Maine in the U.S. Senate.

What are Maine's greatest strengths, and how do you hope to support them?

In Maine’s bicentennial year, we celebrate the work ethic, determination, and spirit of innovation that define our State. Throughout our history, Mainers have stepped forward to defend freedom — we have the second-highest percentage of veterans in the nation. We continue to come to the aid of those in need, offer a haven to the oppressed, and stand for equal rights and justice for all. Farming, fisheries, and forest products remain vital parts of our economy, now joined by advanced manufacturing and world-leading biomedical research. The qualities that turned the Maine wilderness into thriving communities two centuries ago are alive and well today and inspire my work in the U.S. Senate.

What are the greatest problems to address in Maine, and how do you intend to address them?

I was born and raised in Northern Maine, and I am committed to building strong communities, a robust economy, and opportunity for the people of rural Maine. Three specific issues I have long focused on are high-quality and affordable health care; safe and efficient transportation; and expanded access to broadband Internet service, which is essential for rural health care, economic growth, and education.

The greatest challenge currently facing Maine and America is the coronavirus pandemic. Congress has passed multiple relief bills totaling around $3 trillion since March to respond to the ongoing health and economic crisis. Following my advocacy, Maine has received nearly $70 million in federal funding for testing, more than $450 million for our hospitals and other health care providers, more than $114 million for our schools and colleges, and $1.25 billion in aid to the State government. In addition, more than 28,000 Maine small businesses have received nearly $2.3 billion in forgivable Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans to help keep them afloat and support approximately 250,000 Maine jobs. As the author of the PPP loans, I am continuing to push for additional COVID-19 relief for our state.

What have you heard from Mainers during your campaign? What are their biggest concerns?

My favorite part of every campaign is my bus tour, where I visit communities across the state, speak with Mainers, and tour small businesses. What I hear most often is how the Paycheck Protection Program that I co-authored made a difference by preserving someone’s job or small business. I also often discuss with my fellow Mainers the high cost of health care. I wrote new laws to lower the cost of prescription drugs, and I am a co-sponsor of a bill to increase price transparency and competition among health care providers so that Americans can pay the lowest possible price. Another bill I support would put a cap on seniors’ out-of-pocket prescription drug costs under the Medicare program.

Lobstermen often express their opposition to proposed regulations regarding the right whale. I agree with them that Maine lobstermen are not responsible for gear entanglements.

How will you protect and enhance Maine as spending bills are hammered out in Washington?

I’m next in line to be Chairman of the full Appropriations Committee, which is responsible for deciding how federal funds are allocated. I am a senior member of the that committee now and the Chairman of the Transportation and Housing Appropriations Subcommittee, which means that I have a leadership role in shaping federal funding bills to benefit Maine. A few examples of what I have been able to deliver for our State include successfully advocating for a $2.6 billion increase for NIH — the nation’s premiere biomedical research arm, a $350 million increase for Alzheimer’s research, and an $81.8 million increase for diabetes research; securing $746 million in competitive transportation grants for Maine roads, bridges, railroads, and seaports; and assisting Bigelow Labs and the beautiful Botanical Gardens in Boothbay.

I’m also a senior member of five additional Appropriations Subcommittees, and the bills I help craft have brought other critical resources to Maine. I’m a member of the Agriculture Subcommittee, which enabled me to successfully save the potato’s place in the federal school lunch and breakfast programs and to include fresh white potatoes in the supplemental food program for women, infants, and children, known as “WIC.” I’ve also secured funding for Maine agriculture priorities, including blueberry and potato research and Integrated Pest Management. I’m a member of the Commerce, Justice, and Science Subcommittee, through which I’ve secured emergency funding for Maine’s fisheries. I’ve used my position on the Defense Subcommittee to secure funding for more than $16 billion in contracts for Bath Iron Works, protecting thousands of jobs at the shipyard, and I’ve directed funding to Maine’s veterans homes as a member of the Military Construction & Veterans Affairs Subcommittee.

How should Maine approach the need for more workforce housing, as well as re-entry housing for the formerly incarcerated, and emergency shelter for those suffering through extended power outages?

The shortage of affordable housing is a growing crisis nationwide, and as Chairman of the Housing Appropriations Subcommittee, I am committed to addressing it. It is truly problematic that in many cities and towns across the state, the very people who contribute so much to a community's livability – such as educators, police officers, nurses, and firefighters – increasingly cannot afford to live there.

As Chairman, I have provided robust investments in HUD housing programs such as the Community Development Block Grant, HOME, and Public Housing Capital Fund programs that increase the availability of safe, affordable places to live for low-income Americans. I have also long supported expanding and improving the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program, which is critical to developing new affordable housing. Moreover, I have successfully fought for existing rental assistance, additional HUD-VASH vouchers to reduce veterans homelessness, and expanded youth homelessness programs.

We also must ensure that our homes are healthy. New England has an aged housing stock that poses the danger of lead poisoning. In 1999, during my very first term in office, I held a field hearing on lead poisoning in Lewiston. Since then, I have successfully advocated for increased funding for programs to address lead contamination, and last year I secured a historic level of funding for lead abatement.

On what committees would you like to serve, and why?

As I noted above, I’m next in line to be Chairman of the full Appropriations Committee. Maine hasn’t had someone in that position since 1932, and it makes a big difference. For instance, through my role on the Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee, Maine has received more money per capita from the competitive TIGER/BUILD transportation grant program that I have funded than any other state in the nation. I have authored language to direct funding for bridges in rural states, and that’s why I have been successful in securing funding for replacing old and obsolete bridges in Maine. I look forward to continuing to deliver for Maine as Chairman of the Appropriations Committee.

The country has rarely been more polarized. How will you work to counter this trend?

I have been ranked by the Lugar Center and Georgetown University as the most bipartisan Senator for the past seven consecutive years. Bringing Democrats and Republicans together to find common ground is the only way we can address the concerns of the American people. Civility and cooperation are Maine values I take to work with me every day.

What is your position on the Trump Administration’s recent opening up of the Arctic to fossil fuel drilling, a move that, according to the New York Times, "overturns six decades of protections for the largest remaining stretch of wilderness in the United States”?

I oppose drilling in ANWR. I believe we can create an energy policy that will provide sufficient energy to meet the needs of today and of future generations without compromising America's environmentally sensitive areas. I have opposed efforts to open areas like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and Georges Bank off the coast of Maine to drilling and have consistently voted against drilling for oil in the Arctic Refuge.

Should federal land (and seas) be leased for privately-owned industrial and agricultural use?

I oppose drilling off the Maine coast, and I am the co-lead on legislation to ban drilling off the coast of New England.

How should Maine protect its natural resources?

I was an original cosponsor of the Great American Outdoors Act, which was signed into law in August 2020 and will help to ensure both current and future generations can enjoy the pristine beauty of our natural resources in Maine and across the county.

This legislation combined full funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) and the Restore Our Parks Act to help address the billions of dollars in deferred maintenance at our national parks, forests, and wildlife refuges. LWCF is our country’s most important and successful conservation and outdoor recreation program, and its funding has been used to open up key areas for hunting, fishing, and recreational access; support working forests and ranches; protect critical lands in national parks, national wildlife refuges, and national forests; and support state and local projects, from ball parks to recreation trails.

I have also been a long-time supporter of making LWCF permanent, and cosponsored the 2019 law, the John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act, making this a reality.

Maine’s economy relies on small and micro-businesses. How will you help the entrepreneur succeed in this state, especially given the pandemic?

Throughout my Senate service, I have championed efforts to support small employers and their employees, including pro-growth tax policies to help them remain competitive, retirement benefits for employees, and skills training. As a member of the Senate Small Business Task Force, I co-authored the Paycheck Protection Program when the pandemic began, which has provided nearly $2.3 billion in forgivable loans to 28,000 Maine small employers and helped support more than 250,000 Maine jobs.

I am pushing for new legislation to allow the hardest-hit small businesses to receive a second forgivable loan and reopen the application process for small business owners who have yet to apply.

What is your position on law enforcement reform?

The horrific killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis was a crime and laid bare the racial injustice that still taints our country. It is incumbent on all of us to make genuine progress toward the American ideal of ensuring that everyone, regardless of race or ethnicity, is treated equally.

The vast majority of law enforcement officers are brave men and women devoted to protecting our families and communities. Even so, we need to examine and act on the racial disparities in law enforcement where they occur. I’ve cosponsored the JUSTICE Act, which seeks to address systemic problems within our criminal justice system. Among other things, it would improve officer training, increase the use of body-worn cameras, penalize police departments that fail to ban chokeholds, and increase penalties for false reports filed by the police.

I strongly oppose efforts to defund the police, and I believe we must do a better job of protecting those who protect our communities. In 2020, there have been 37 law enforcement officers killed in the U.S. This is an increase of more than 20 percent since this time last year. Of those, eight were ambushed in premeditated attacks and two were victims of an unprovoked attack. I co-sponsored the Protect and Serve Act that would give federal prosecutors the tools they need to hold those accountable who target law enforcement officers for assault and attacks.

Do you believe that Roe vs. Wade should be a protected law? If so, how will you ensure that women across the U.S. will retain their right choose whether to have an abortion, or not.

Roe v. Wade is settled law. Throughout my service in the Senate, I have been a strong proponent of a women’s right to choose and of family planning programs to promote and protect women’s health.

I continue to believe that the best way to reduce the number of abortions in the United States is to ensure that women have access to the family planning services they need to prevent unintended pregnancies. That is why I have long supported the Title X family planning programs, which provide important family planning, cancer screening, and basic preventive health care services to millions of women across the country. In November 2017, Planned Parenthood honored me with the 2017 Barry Goldwater Award for being “an outspoken champion for women’s health.”

What are your thoughts on Maine's response to the pandemic?

From the very beginning of the pandemic, I have worked to make sure Maine has the resources it needs to help protect Mainers’ health and our economy. Congress has passed multiple relief bills totaling about $3 trillion. I have secured hundreds of millions of dollars for Maine’s health care providers and $2.3 billion to help support 28,000 Maine small businesses and 250,000 jobs.

I have also strongly advocated for the Personal Protective Equipment needed to protect those on the front lines. As of October 1, FEMA and the Strategic National Stockpile have provided Maine with more than 1,498,514 gloves, 43,525 face shields, 41,290 surgical gowns, 204,393 surgical masks, and 566,775 N95 respirators. I am continuing to push for additional COVID-19 relief for our state.

Maine is a predominantly white state. How should Maine communities, and individuals, address systemic racism?

We are a great country borne of the ideal that all are created equal, and yet recent events have laid bare persistent racial disparities throughout parts of our society. One such area is health care. In July, I chaired a hearing on COVID-19’s disparate health impacts on older adults in racial and ethnic minority communities. Maine has the nation’s worst racial disparities in COVID-19 cases. The hearing panel had a number of recommendations, including investing in medically underserved communities, supporting diversity in our health care workforce and community partnerships, and permanently expanding the use of telemedicine. Diabetes and Alzheimer's disease also disproportionately affect communities of color, and I have led efforts to increase federal research funding and support for families dealing with these conditions.

Poverty can be one of the strongest forces of oppression, and I'm leading efforts to put into place effective anti-poverty programs to lift whole families out of poverty. Educational opportunity can also be a tremendous equalizer. I have long supported Pell Grants and TRIO programs that help young people who come from disadvantaged backgrounds achieve their educational goals.

What steps need to be taken to ensure there is no repeat scrambling to protect absentee voting through the Postal Service in future mid-term and general elections?

We need to work together to ensure that the United States Postal Service (USPS) remains strong throughout the COVID-19 public health emergency and over the long-term. This is why I am leading the Postal Service Emergency Assistance Act, which I introduced with Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) on July 2nd. Our bipartisan bill would provide the Postal Service with up to $25 billion to cover COVID-19-related losses and expenses. It would also require the Postal Service Board of Governors to develop a plan to ensure the long-term solvency of the USPS.

I called on the Postmaster General to address the unacceptable mail delays and he has suspended operational initiatives contributing to these delays

I also know that there are Mainers who are concerned that they will not be able to mail in ballots this fall. The State of Maine has well-established procedures for absentee voting, and Mainers should not hesitate to vote absentee this election if they desire.

Do you think the media has done a good job or a poor job of informing the public about the pandemic?

The newest form of media — social media — has not done a particularly good job of keeping people informed during the pandemic. Hoaxes, conspiracies, and distortions about COVID-19 are flourishing online, and social media companies are not keeping up. Additionally, social media is exacerbating the divisions in our country by allowing those on the far left and the far right to insulate themselves from opposing viewpoints.

Do you think the media has treated candidates from all parties equally and fairly this election cycle?

I think the biggest media issue in this race is the relentless negative, dishonest ads. Over the past several years, left-wing, “dark money,” out-of-state groups have spent millions of dollars falsely attacking me. Ads run by my opponent have been debunked by 17 independent fact checks. I’ve never had a campaign where there were more falsehoods spread about my record and where my integrity has been attacked repeatedly. I have faith that the people of Maine will reject the politics of personal destruction and vote based on my long record of working on behalf of our state.

What does the U.S. need to do become "great again," since some nations now see us at risk of failing our democracy?

We are living in highly polarized times, and our nation has rarely been more divided in recent times. In addition, we are confronting a global pandemic, the biggest public health threat we have faced since the 1918 flu pandemic.

Our nation has overcome challenging times before, and we will do so again. We need to remember that we are not Republicans, Democrats, or Independents first. We are Americans. Our nation was built on a strong foundation of liberty and equality. These principles unite us and give us the strength to resolve our differences, to evolve, and to grow as a society and as a democracy.

How will you ensure that you build a strong voice in Washington, D.C., and represent Mainers, not lobbyists nor party politics?

Mainers know me, and they know that I always carefully research the issues, listen to views on both sides, and apply good judgment to every vote. Throughout my Senate service, I have cast more than 7,400 votes without missing a single one. Every time, I have voted according to what I believe is best for Maine and for our country. No one has ever dictated how I'm going to vote, and that will never change.