Updated: Crowd packs town hall meeting, but Sen. Collins is a no-show

Activist group calls for answers to questions, vows to send tape of town meeting to senator
By Daniel Dunkle | Apr 20, 2017
Photo by: Daniel Dunkle Midcoast residents stand in line waiting for a turn at the podium during a town hall meeting in Thomaston which the guest of honor, U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, chose not to attend.

Thomaston — U.S. Sen. Susan Collins did not attend a town hall meeting April 20 in Thomaston.

If she had, she would have faced a crowd of 165 people packed into the meeting room at Watts Hall. Many of those who did attend the meeting took turns at the podium asking questions of their senator and raising concerns about issues including climate change, health care, the potential for war, cuts to the EPA and grave misgivings about President Donald Trump.

Chief among the questions was why Collins will not meet with the group in a town hall public meeting. The questions were addressed to an empty chair on the stage that would have been Collins' seat if she had participated.

James Cook of Rockport, a member of the activist group Midcoast Maine Indivisible, said the group's requests for the meeting began 92 days prior, on Jan. 19. He said this request was greeted first with no response from Collins, then with messages that Collins did not have time in her schedule for the meeting, and finally, more recently, with messages that she would be willing to meet with no more than eight individuals on the condition that questions be given to her in advance.

The Republican senator's office responded to the criticism in an email April 21:

"We never asked for questions to be submitted in advance. Hard stop. Never happened," said Annie Clark of Collins' staff.

 

"Senator Collins is incredibly accessible. To suggest otherwise is simply false," she said.

Clark said Collins has offered to meet with Midcoast Maine Indivisible in a video conference, but the group never responded to that offer. She said video conference is a tool often used so the senator is always accessible to her constituents, even when she is in Washington, D.C., for votes.

"That lack of response [from Midcoast Maine Indivisible] is curious to me -- and surprising, given that such a meeting is an opportunity to directly raise concerns with Sen. Collins," Clark said. "It doesn't make sense to me why this meeting offer would have been ignored."

Cook on April 24 and 25 stated that his group did respond to Sen. Collins' office. He also said he was told by a member of Collins' staff, who was not Clark, that they would like to see the questions in advance.

Specifically, he said that on Feb. 17, he met with Carol Woodcock of Collins' Bangor office and was offered a meeting on a single topic for 6-8 members of the group with questions submitted in advance.

Questioned about this, Clark responded, saying Woodcock had offered the group an opportunity to list its questions to help Collins' staff try to get the group the information. She said it was not a demand as a condition of meeting with Collins to submit the questions in advance.

"We feel that these claims about the process are inaccurate and look forward to the opportunity to meet with Sen. Collins to demonstrate that with documentation," Cook said. "More importantly, we look forward to all of our members having a chance to meet with Sen. Collins."

Cook said at the town hall meeting that the group had offered to hold this public meeting with her anytime that her schedule is free between now and 2020.

Several of the residents who spoke at the meeting stressed that they were not paid activists. Most were residents from Knox, Lincoln and Waldo County towns.

A number of the speakers asked Collins to work toward the public release of President Trump's tax returns.

Elaine Tucker of Belfast criticized Collins for supporting the appointments of Jeff Sessions for attorney general, Tom Price for Health and Human Services secretary and Judge Neil Gorsuch for the U.S. Supreme Court. Tucker argued that ran contrary to Collins' stated support for women's access to family planning.

"How can I trust you?" Tucker asked the chair.

Diane Russell of Portland also criticized Collins for supporting Sessions, arguing the senator should have followed the example of Margaret Chase Smith, who stood up to Joseph McCarthy. Russell talked about the role of women in shaping Maine's history, including the late Samantha Smith, who famously, at age 10, wrote a letter to Soviet leader Yuri Andropov to ask if he was going to wage nuclear war with the U.S. Russell said she now fears a new Cold War and nuclear threat due to the current U.S. leadership.

Other issues raised included concerns about immigrants, health care and Medicare.

Catherine Gelsinger served as moderator for the town hall meeting.

A chair sits empty on the stage at Watts Hall where U.S. Sen. Susan Collins was invited to sit for a town hall meeting with 165 constituents April 20 in Thomaston. Also pictured is moderator Catherine Gelsinger. (Photo by: Daniel Dunkle)
A total of 165 people attend a town hall meeting April 20 at Watts Hall in Thomaston. (Photo by: Daniel Dunkle)
Moderator Catherine Gelsinger (Photo by: Daniel Dunkle)
A sign on the street invites people to the town hall meeting for U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, who was not in attendance, April 20 in Thomaston. (Photo by: Daniel Dunkle)
Comments (7)
Posted by: Nathan D Marvin | Apr 27, 2017 10:36

Where are you Senator Collins? We, the constituents you claim to represent, have questions and concerns. As someone elected to represent us in Washington, should you not be willing to at least listen to what we have to say?



Posted by: Nancy Baker | Apr 26, 2017 21:58

I've been involved in Midcoast Maine Indivisible since it's inception because of the integrity, civility and sincere commitment to the democratic process of holding our elected officials accountable for their voting record and vital communication between Mainers and their representatives. Senator Collins cannot dodge the facts. There is verifiable evidence of Indivisible's invitation to her and her response (or lack thereof). There are no alternative facts.

That being said, I'm more interested in what happens next. I sincerely hope she does respond to the thoughtful questions that were directed to her the night the Town Hall meeting was held. That opportunity still exists. I also urge Senator Collins to provide us a date between now and 2020 to revisit the invitation and agree to attend a second Town Hall meeting where citizens can comment and ask questions directly of her. There is ample evidence (a full video) that members of Indivisible are committed to civil conduct and respectful exchange between our senator and her constituents. She has nothing to fear or evade.

 

 

 



Posted by: Penelope Ray | Apr 26, 2017 16:25

The after-the-fact response from Annie Clark, Collins' representative and staff, is sad to see.   Blaming her constituents and accusing them of lying is not the way to go.  Midcoast Indivisible members are motivated and willing to put lots of effort into communicating with members of Congress.  The reason that there was no meeting is that no opportunity was offered, and Senator Collins refused to attend the town hall arranged for her. Senator Collins was welcome to come to the meeting, and her constituents who came to see her were well-mannered with thoughtful questions and concerns.   It was a missed opportunity for all.   Collins has a copy of the video made and is welcome to demonstrate to all that she cares, by responding to the questions asked. I hope she does.   Based on how she is acting, I am sad to say I doubt she will.



Posted by: Seth Hall | Apr 23, 2017 00:09

Susan Collins is most demonstrably not working for average Mainers.  She has consistently supported, and voted with the Republican legislative interests in the Congress. The fact that she was able to garner the support of the Bath Iron Works labor unions was not  a badge of honor, but rather, yet another demonstration that even the few remaining labor unions have lost their political compass, in terms of who's interests their 'preferred' candidates are working for.

It is high time that the chronic and fallacious claims that Ms. Collins is a 'moderate' are debunked; Any senator that actively supports the likes of Jeff Sessions and Tom Price for cabinet positions, to say nothing of conservative extremists like Judge Neil Gorsuch for a seat on the Supreme Court, deserves to be called out as an apologist for regressive social policy and a supporter of corporate dominance of our public and political discourse. The idea that Ms. Collins has any real investment in the needs and aspirations of typical working Mainers is simply laughable.

While I can only hope that Ms. Collins is eventually called out on her duplicity and disingenuity as regards normal working Maine folks, the worrisome truth is that her consistent refusal to meet with her constituency in public forums is in and of itself is an act of profound political cowardice.

 

 



Posted by: Margie Gerrish | Apr 22, 2017 21:06

 

Hope she's not planning to run for governor.

 

 

 



Posted by: johanna stadler | Apr 22, 2017 17:35

seems to me she has forgotten just whom is working for who.  I have never voted for her because I think she could care less about maine.  I think this just proves it.  WHat a coward.

 



Posted by: George Terrien | Apr 21, 2017 13:32

When is the next meeting Senator Collins might choose to ignore scheduled?  Out of courtesy to her and respect for democracy, I think that she should be given enough warning so that she might schedule a prior engagement, or at least an excuse for ignoring those who might (or might not) vote for her.  But, in the alternative, she may simply prefer to ignore us, I hope at her peril.



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